Patient care warning over GP cuts

STEVE DOWNES Patients could be put at risk because of “drastic” cuts to the out-of-hours GP service across Norfolk and Waveney, it was claimed last night.

STEVE DOWNES

Patients could be put at risk because of “drastic” cuts to the out-of-hours GP service across Norfolk and Waveney, it was claimed last night.

The EDP can reveal that the number of bases manned between midnight and 8am is set to be reduced from 11 to six - in a bid to meet cost-cutting demands from cash-strapped primary care trusts (PCTs), which buy the services.

GPs fear the “swingeing” cuts will mean some sick people in rural areas will face a journey of an hour or more to get medical care.

And a Norfolk MP claimed the move was “robbing Peter to pay Paul” - and would lead to a steep rise in emergency admissions to hospitals.

In the area covered by Norfolk PCT, the bases will be reduced from eight to four during the eight-hour spell from next Wednesday.

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And Anglian Medical Care (AMC), which runs the out-of-hours service on both patches, is proposing a reduction from three to two bases between midnight and 8am in Yarmouth and Waveney PCT. A decision is expected to be made soon.

AMC said it had been forced to take action to “comply with the PCTs' reduction in funding”.

But Dr Peter Harvey, a GP at Holt Medical Practice and a member of the local medical council, said: “The changes are wholly inappropriate and drastic, and likely to put patients at risk. The cuts are swingeing. I dread to think what will happen.”

He added: “AMC is not the villain of the piece - Norfolk PCT is.”

Dr Nick Morton, assistant medical director of the East of England Ambulance Service, of which AMC is a subsidiary, said: “We are having to work out how to provide the safest achievable service to all our patients within the finances given.

“Norfolk PCT is in dire straits and trying to save £50m, so pressure is being put on all its commissioned services, including the out-of-hours GPs.”

The out-of-hours service is in the process of being put out to tender, which could spark a fierce bidding war that may see the service taken on by a private provider.

AMC admitted it had made the changes “partly” in a bid to avoid losing the contract.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said: “If you cut back the out-of-hours service then inevitably you will get an increase in emergency hospital admissions. It's robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Dr Rob Colebrook, clinical director for Norfolk PCT, said: “We asked Anglian Medical Care to look for ways of keeping within the agreed budgets set by the PCT.

“They have responded very positively by reorganising their service so that it continues to operate efficiently, reaching the target response times laid down within our service specification, and continuing to provide excellent patient care.”

At the moment, there are 11 bases across Norfolk and Waveney - at Downham Market, Diss, Fakenham, Dereham, Norwich, North Walsham, King's Lynn, Thetford, Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Beccles.

From January 24, there will be four bases in the Norfolk PCT area, at Norwich, North Walsham, King's Lynn and Thetford. They will all be staffed by a GP and an ECP.

The proposal is to move to two in Yarmouth and Waveney PCT - at the James Paget Hospital at Gorleston, and at Beccles.

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