Out-of-hours GP revamp faces tough challenge
STEVE DOWNES The man in charge of Norfolk's new out-of-hours GP regime admitted it would be a “hard task” to match the success of the old system in keeping patients out of hospital.
The man in charge of Norfolk's new out-of-hours GP regime admitted it would be a “hard task” to match the success of the old system in keeping patients out of hospital.
Figures showed in the final nine months of the old out-of-hours system, the number of hospital referrals dropped from 900 to 450 out of 15,000 GP calls - a fall from 6pc to 3pc and close to the lowest level of out-of-hours referrals in the last 10 years.
On August 20, a new system was introduced as part of a reduced-cost contract between Norfolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) and operator the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAS).
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GPs and patient watchdogs have expressed fears that the service, which includes fewer GPs on call at night and weekends, will deteriorate.
Dr Nick Morton, who ran the old service and is in charge of the new one, said: “It's particularly pleasing that the reduction has been sustained over such a long period. But the changes to the service make it harder.
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“It will be interesting to see if we can maintain this level. That is the aim, but it will be a challenge.”
Dr Morton, assistant medical director of the EEAS, added that having fewer hospital admissions was “better for everyone”. He said: “The patient avoids a lengthy trip to hospital, the hospital is freer to treat more serious cases and each admission we can avoid saves the NHS £600.”
He said the big reduction in admissions was achieved with the “hard efforts” of GPs, emergency care practitioners and nurse practitioners. “They can be proud of this success”.
David Russell, spokesman for the East of England Ambulance Patient and Public Forum, said he was “encouraged” by the improvement and pleased that EEAS had retained the out-of-hours contract.
But he said: “We will have to wait and see if the improvement will be maintained. I still have concerns about the way the service is being delivered. I will be interested to see the performance in the future.”
The service covers all of Norfolk except Yarmouth.
Under the new contract, the level of cover at the busiest weekends could drop from 24 doctors to 15, but the number of nurses on call would rise from five to 10.
EEAS bosses said the system had been carefully designed after an analysis of the peaks and troughs of demand in the last three years.
They said a new centralised triage system would allow staff to prioritise cases while future plans would see closer working with hospital accident and emergency departments.
But disquiet among doctors has been growing, with some claiming the new system - which has been reduced because of the PCT's £50m debt - would lead to a poorer service for patients.