Revealed: Pressures facing our region’s NHS 111 and out-of-hours GP services

NHS 111 and out-of-hours GP services were provided by East of England Ambulance Service Trust until

NHS 111 and out-of-hours GP services were provided by East of England Ambulance Service Trust until last September, when IC24 took over. - Credit: Archant © 2013

A shortage of GPs is at the root of the problems faced by the region's NHS 111 and out-of-hours services, a report by health bosses has revealed.

There are a number of high risks to the operation, system, and workforce by Integrated Care 24 (IC24), which runs the services, according to Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Their findings were published on the same day as Norwich North MP Chloe Smith quizzed health secretary Jeremy Hunt in Parliament about the recruitment of GPs.

Her comments came as a report by NHS England revealed that GPs, and the NHS 111 and out-of-hours services (provided in Cornwall by South Western Ambulance Service), had 'failed' Cornish baby William Mead, who died after medical staff failed to spot signs of sepsis.

Mark Reynolds, of IC24, which provides the NHS 111 and out-of-hours GP services in Norfolk and Wisbech, said the company provided a good service to millions of patients, and added it was committed to improvement.

You may also want to watch:

IC24 took over the contract to provide the services in Norfolk and Wisbech from East of England Ambulance Service Trust last September, after being awarded a five-year contract by the county's CCGs.

They already provided the same service in Great Yarmouth and Waveney, and in other parts of England.

Most Read

But figures show IC24 is missing two of three key patient targets in Norfolk and Wisbech. The same targets are being missed in Suffolk where services are provided by private company Care UK. Yesterday's report revealed a number of failings within IC24, a not-for-profit company.

The findings included:

- Patients waiting more than 12 hours to be offered appointments after calling 111.

- GPs being unhappy that they are consistently moved between bases to cover shortfalls.

- At times the workforce being unable to meet the demand of activity.

The report was based on conversations between the CCG and IC24 staff in November, following an unnanounced inspection.

The CCG said some of the allegations in the report were 'unsubstantiated', meaning they have not been proven to be true.

But the report confirmed the inspectors saw evidence of occasions when just one or two out-of-hours GPs were available for Norfolk and Wisbech, and patients having to wait more than 12 hours for callbacks from clinicians after dialling 111 with a health problem.

This posed 'a significant risk to patient safety', the CCG's report said.

Ms Smith said the report's findings were one of the reasons for her raising her concerns about GP shortages with the health secretary yesterday.

Speaking in Parliament, she asked: 'He [Mr Hunt] may be aware of some concerns in Norfolk about our out-of-hours service.

'What else is he doing to recruit, retain and support GPs in providing the round-the-clock care that people clearly need?'

Mr Hunt replied: 'Successive governments of both parties have under-invested in general practice, and that is part of the reason why it takes too long for many people to get a GP appointment. It is why we have said that we want to have about 5,000 more doctors working in general practice by the end of this Parliament.'

Ms Smith told this newspaper: 'It's crucial to be able to recruit more GPs to Norfolk and retain and support them.

'I was very concerned by the tragic death in Cornwall, and aware of some parallels that may relate to people's concerns in Norfolk so I was keen to question Mr Hunt.'

Former health minister Norman Lamb, MP for North Norfolk, said the 999, 111, and out-of-hours services needed to be better joined up, and added the problems of recruiting enough GPs must be addressed.

Dr Reynolds, medical director for IC24 said: 'IC24 provides a good service to more than six million patients and we are committed to working closely with our commissioning bodies and GP colleagues to ensure that the service continues to improve for our patients.'

Have you had an experience with NHS 111 or the out of hours service? Email to share them with others.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter