Out-of-hours care in chaos, claims ex-GP

SUFFOLK: A retired Suffolk GP today called for the return of the old scheme for out-of-hours medical care after describing the current system as “chaotic”.

SUFFOLK: A retired Suffolk GP today called for the return of the old scheme for out-of-hours medical care after describing the current system as “chaotic”.

Dr Alec Russell, who was a GP in Walsham-le-Willows for 42 years, spoke out following recent problems relating to out-of-hours care. He has raised the issue with fellow GPs and shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley.

Take Care Now (TCN), a private firm which operates the out-of-hours GP service, again came under scrutiny this week when Annette Stemmer, from Ipswich, was forced to call an ambulance to tend to her sick husband, despite making eight phone calls over nine hours to TCN.

In 2004 the GP contract allowed GPs to opt out of their commitment to out-of-hours service in return for a pay cut. PCTs were given the responsibility to commission these services. The current out-of-hours contract for the NHS Suffolk region runs out in March 2010 and the PCT is evaluating bids for a new contract.

Dr Russell said: “Listening to people who have had out-of-hours care, it is fairly chaotic. It is not good enough.

“When I was a GP we used to do this service within our practice. It used to work pretty well. Some doctors did not like it but we did it as part of our duty.

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“I was on duty on Monday nights and the likelihood was you would get one call-out a night. There is no continuity now as the doctor who comes to see you is a complete stranger.

“What I would like to see is doctors taking back some responsibility. I'm of a different generation but I know this is not a pipe dream.”

Geoff Reason, chief executive of Suffolk's Local Medical Committee, which represents GPs, said: “The service must be up to standard as part of the continuing care to patients.”

Jon Reynolds, head of contract management at NHS Suffolk, said: “In Suffolk, 86 per cent of out-of-hours GP services are still covered by Suffolk GPs or GPs from towns in neighbouring counties.

“We would reassure people in Suffolk that delivering safe and effective clinical services is our priority.”

What is your view on out-of-hours GP care? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk