GP Out-of-Hours – Out Of Mind And Out Of Sight?

July 11, 2014

Smiling doctor woman pointing on clockA drop in out-of-hours cases has a knock-on effect

When a patient needs GP advice out of normal surgery hours, when the surgery is closed, they can call the GP out-of-hours service.However, according to a poll by financial watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) one in four people are unaware there is GP out-of-hours care. Also, the NAO found that the number of patients visiting out-of-hours GP services has dropped by a third over the last seven years. Many patients appeared more likely to go to A&E departments or call 999 to get treatment during the weekend or after hours. Is it possible then that the drop in out-of-hours cases may be contributing to increasing demand on GP services during the day and pressure on A&E services at other times?

We often don’t like change

I wonder if patients prefer the convenience of contacting their surgery and trying to see their GP of choice during the working day rather than consult with an unfamiliar GP in unfamiliar surroundings. We are creatures of habit and often don’t like change. I’m sure there will be a raft of public awareness campaigns coming our way soon in order to promote GP out-of-hours services. I feel that it will be a welcome relief if patients do use the GP out-of-hours service when they actually need it rather than wait for the daily battle each morning trying to contact their surgery to get that ‘golden ticket’ appointment with their usual GP.

Raising awareness

Attempts to encourage patients to use the out-of-hours service have sadly failed, but there is some real benefit to having out-of-hours care co-located with A&E so that patients can be diverted quickly and treated appropriately. NHS England need to step up its efforts to raise public awareness of how and when patients should contact out-of-hours GP services, particularly since two thirds of patients rated their overall experience with out-of-hours care as a positive one, and over three quarters said they had confidence in and trusted their out-of-hours clinician.

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Alison Lowerson

GP Specialist

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