One in ten areas is left without out-of-hours cover, an investigation has found.
According to a report by Pulse magazine, some providers have admitted they have had overnight and weekend shifts over the past year with no GP cover.
The magazine made a request under the Freedom of Information Act, which yielding information from 104 out-of-hours commissioners, of which 10 said there were occasions where patients with left with no out-of-hours cover during 2016 ‘due to chronic shortages of staff’.
Responding to the report, the Royal College of General Practitioners, has today issued a statement, describing the findings as ‘very concerning’.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: “GPs work incredibly hard to deliver care to patients around the clock through our routine service and GP out of hours service, so patients should always be able to access our care when they need it – that this report has found occasions where this isn’t happening is very concerning.
“It hammers home how important it is for the government to make good on its promise to deliver 5,000 more extra GPs by 2020. More must also be done to address the serious barriers that serve to make working out of hours an unattractive option for GPs – it isn’t just the unsociable hours, but the indemnity costs to work out of hours simply make it unviable in many cases.”
She added: “NHS England’s winter indemnity scheme should help with rising costs, but they were already high in the first place.
“Better integration between routine general practice services, and GP out of hours services, is also necessary so that we can work together to ensure proper cover – and so our patients know where to turn when they are sick.
“A safe and sustainable NHS is predicated on having a strong general practice service – but we need enough resources, and enough GPs and practice staff to deliver the care our patients need, whenever they need it.”
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has said it will ‘review’ the results of Pulse’s investigation.