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Out-Of-Hours GP Care 'Getting Better', But Improvements Still Needed

Recruitment And Medicine Storage Improvements May Be Needed At GP Practices


Significant improvements have been made to out-of-hours GP care in many parts of the UK, but further changes are still needed in some areas, according to a new report from the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

Chief inspector of general practice at the CQC Professor Steve Field explained: "Out-of-hours services are often considered to be higher risk than those provided during the day by GP surgeries and we know that some have seriously failed people in the past."

However, the report found most services were carried out in a safe manner and were well-managed, with fewer temporary doctors providing care on out-of-hours shifts and constructive feedback from patients being encouraged.

Yet despite this, almost one-quarter of the practices surveyed by the CQC were warned about the way they stored and monitored their stocks of medicine, while one-fifth were deemed to not be meeting recruitment standards by failing to carry out background checks on job applicants.

This raises concerns regarding the safety of patients, as well as igniting worries that the state of care could revert back to poorer standards of the past.

For example, in 2004, GPs were given the option to decide whether or not to provide out-of-hours care, leaving it up to potentially less safe services to manage this.

In addition, there have been concerns about the use of locum doctors for such shifts, as in the past, temporary medics have made errors leading to the health and lives of patients being seriously compromised.

Professor Field concluded: "At the start of our inspections, I did not have high hopes about the quality of out-of-hours care.

"However, I am delighted that these inspections have shown that in most cases, the care people receive is safe, effective, caring, responsive and well-led."

Commenting on the report's findings, Dr Chaand Nagpaul of the British Medical Association said its results were "encouraging", but did not offer a complete picture of the situation, as it did not take into account the 111 telephone service, which is the main out-of-hours point of contact for many patients.

Expert Opinion
The improvement of out-of-hours GP care is a welcome development in recent months and illustrates the work being done by the CQC and medical professionals. However, it is concerning that some services are still not up to the standards patients expect to receive. It is vital more is done to improve the quality of out-of-hours care patients receive so everyone is able to access the best possible treatment.

“We have seen first-hand the impact poor-quality out-of-hours GP care can have on patients and it is important the CQC continues to work with GP surgeries to reassure patients they will get the best care even if they fall ill when their local GPs are unavailable.”
Julianne Moore, Partner

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