Backing for out-of-hours GPs

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Around a third of doctors are interested in the idea of taking back control of their out-of-hours service for more pay, it was claimed today.

In 2004, a majority of GPs accepted an offer to opt out of providing round-the-clock care for their patients in return for a £6,000 average drop in salary, with responsibility handed to primary care trusts.

But a survey conducted for ITV1's Tonight suggests that some doctors are unhappy with the current service and are willing to shoulder the responsibility again if funded to the same level as the current provider.

It is claimed that the costs associated with out-of-hours services - which is usually contracted out to a private company or consortium of GPs - is higher that the equivalent of £6,000 per doctor.

A poll carried out by doctors.net.uk on behalf of Tonight's Doctor Who? programme, to be aired at 8pm tonight, found that 10% of doctors said they would "definitely be willing" to retake control.

An additional 22% said they it would be a possibility. Just under half of the 1,537 respondents said they would definitely not consider taking on round-the-clock care, with 18% stating "probably not".

Vanessa Bourne, head of special projects for The Patients Association, said: "I think that figure of one in three is actually very interesting.

"It suggests they are unhappy with their out-of-hours provider and it means that they are not happy GPs and an unhappy GP doesn't do the best for his patients." She added: "It's changed the relationship that a patient has with their GP above all so that they no longer feel that they have that 24 hour guardian and gatekeeper into the NHS, which is what the ideal is." Concern has been raised over the quality of the 24 hour service provided by some primary care trusts.

The Tonight programme spoke to a doctor who worked for UC24, Liverpool's out-of-hours service.

Dr Srinivas Dharmana, who recently agreed a settlement with UC24 over an unfair dismissal claim, told interviewers that he is so worried about the service he tells patients to phone his personal mobile number if they have an urgent query.

He claimed that next to no case history is passed on to him after his patients are seen by the out-of-hours doctor.

Dr Dharmana said: "For example, this particular lady has given them a call to say she is thinking of suicide.

"We don't have any information of first of all what the doctor's done. It just says outcome: No diagnosis, no complications...What I need to know is whether this patient actually attempted the suicide or is seeing some sort of psychiatric unit." Responding to his complaint, Dr Chris Mimnagh, medical director for Knowsley Primary Care Trust, said: "If he has concerns he should take them to the PCT. I don't know how happy you'd feel knowing that your doctor had been up the night before seeing patients, perhaps a bit tired on call twenty four hours a day, forever, it doesn't sound like safety really does it."

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