An unacceptable variation exists between doctors' out-of-hours services around the country, a minister admitted today.
Health minister Mike O'Brien said he had a report on his desk which highlights the problem and he is to publish proposals for improvements.
Mr O'Brien was responding to a report which says that doctors are agreeing to just one in 50 requests for out-of-hours home visits in some parts of the country.
Even in the best areas, only one in four people calling for a GP at night or at weekends will receive a visit, according to a study reported in the Daily Mail.
The report, by the Primary Care Foundation, compares the quality of health services in England's Primary Care Trusts and discovered that in some areas there is only one GP covering more than 300,000 people at night.
It shows enormous variations across the country. For example, the number of patients receiving home visits varies from 25 per cent in one PCT (one in four) to 2 per cent in another (one in 50).
Similarly, the number given only a telephone diagnosis varies between 20 per cent and 70 per cent.
Mr O'Brien, on GMTV, denied that the system was a shambles.
He said: "That's not what a recent report which I commissioned last year will say.
"It will say actually it's better than it was in 2004, but that there is an unacceptable level of variation between the Primary Care Trusts, who are the funders of the out-of-hours services."
He said the report had been on his desk for a couple of weeks. He was waiting for the conclusion of an inquest in Cambridgeshire before publishing it, and then the Government would make proposals for improvements.
Some minimum Government standards are required, and local GPs should become more involved to help meet local needs, he said.
"What people forget about GPs is that they are actually private businesses. They are contracted to the NHS, we give them a contract, and they are expected to comply with it.
"Some do it better than others, and there's a level of variability."Reuse content