Most happy with GP out-of-hour care

An overwhelming majority of The Evening Star's online readers are happy with the out-of-hours service in Suffolk.

SUFFOLK: An overwhelming majority of The Evening Star's online readers are happy with the out-of-hours service in Suffolk.

According to an online poll featured on our website (, more than 90 per cent believe Take Care Now (TCN), an independent firm, should continue to provide the service in the county.

A massive 1,732 voted in favour, whereas 168 voted against.

The poll and a survey about the service were launched following criticism of TCN by councillors and health watchdog, the Care Quality Commission, for failing in certain areas like unfilled shifts.

Dr Graeme Kelvin, chairman of the TCN Board, who has been a GP for the past 25 years, today fought back against the criticism, claiming that patient care is their primary concern.

He said: “I have been involved with being on-call myself, and developing a GP co-operative in the county, and moving onto this. It has been an evolution.

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“The whole thing is about trying to strike a reasonable balance and doing the best job you can with the resources you have.

“Everyone who works for the service is trying to do their best for the patients.”

Some of the criticism levelled at the firm has been that rural bases for out-of-hours care, such as Wickham Market, are not open 24/7 but TCN insist it operates a telephone access service and that if there are no doctors available at the centre, people have to go to the next nearest base (Ipswich or Aldeburgh), or depending on the patients' needs, doctors can carry out home visits.

Dr Kelvin added: “It is not about filling 100 per cent of the shifts. It is designed to work at 85 per cent of shifts filled. We have to provide a flexible service. It is not unreasonable that people would want a doctor sitting there all the time but that doctor would not be that busy.”

Tell us your experience with out-of-hours care - write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail

TCN was created to take over Suffolk Doctors on Call (SDOC), which was a GP co-operative set up in 1994 to provide out-of-hours care. In 2004 the government gave GPs the option to opt out of their out-of-hours commitment in exchange for a �6,000 pay cut. This money was then given to the PCT to fund the services which it commissions.

TCN looks after out-of-hours care for nearly 600,000 people in Suffolk (except for seven practices on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, which are run by different providers).

Bids for a new contract are currently being evaluated and will be decided by NHS Suffolk next month.

We have launched a survey to see what people in Suffolk think about the out-of-hours service. Tell us your stories of both good and poor experiences.