10% of UK left with no out-of-hours GP cover during 2016
A freedom of information request, by Pulse, led to the discovery that 1 in 10 areas in the UK were left without any General Practitioners (GPs) during out-of-hours times, over the course of the night or on the weekend. The revelation has been, predictably, pinned down to staff shortages, with fewer than required GPs available for out-of-hours shifts.
104 out-of-hours commissioners from across the UK responded to Pulse’s request for more detail about staff levels – with 10 responding that there had been periods of 2016 where no GPs were available to cover out-of-hours shifts. This situation led to non-medically qualified individuals providing advice or patients being referred to A&E.
This is particularly worrying as A&E’s across the UK struggle with patient numbers. This led to a situation in Peterborough where 230,000 patients had no access to a GP and scenario with children under four years old being automatically sent to A&E. Similar situations were cited in Tower Hamlets, in London, with 250,000 patients left without GPs and also in Doncaster, were 300,000 were left without GPS on three occasions.
Dr Simon Abrams is a GP in Everton and chair of Urgent Health UK, the representative group for out-of-hours GP providers, said: “It is a worrying trend. It can be a last-minute appointment that keeps the service afloat, especially at weekends. Additional funding can be required to attract takers and even then there are occasions when rotas are not full. Then, closing urgent care centres or staggering opening times is the only option. This probably impacts more on rural communities where patients are already travelling several miles to see a GP out of hours. Erosion of these services not only raises clinical risk in the community but adds to pressure on A&E.”
Comments left on Pulse’s website corroborate Abrams comments upon funding, with several GPs confirming that the pay levels for out-of-hours work fell short of the day rates. Considering the anti-social hours that out-of-hours shifts require, it is understandable that many GPs do not feel much desire to offer their services.