Concerns over lack of out-of-hours cover

PUBLISHED: 12:19 30 March 2006 | UPDATED: 14:38 12 May 2010

ONE night recently I was in the unfortunate position of needing to contact the out-of-hours GP service. My son had been quite poorly and, as the weekend was approaching, I had been advised by my own surgery under what circumstances I should ring the emer

ONE night recently I was in the unfortunate position of needing to contact the out-of-hours GP service. My son had been quite poorly and, as the weekend was approaching, I had been advised by my own surgery under what circumstances I should ring the emergency cover. When one of these circumstances arose at 1am I was sufficiently concerned to call. I was appalled to find out that the nearest doctor was in Hertford. A nurse told me to wait a bit longer and ring back then, even if it was agreed I was allowed to speak to the doctor and he thought it necessary to come out, I was told it would take him more than two hours to get here. Needless to say, I declined on the basis that had I become any more worried it would have been much quicker to take my son directly to Addenbrooke's. However, the whole situation raised a number of worrying questions and led me to contact the Royston, Buntingford and Bishop's Stortford Primary Care Trust. I discovered that our trust is currently in partnership with the South East Hertfordshire Primary Care Trust, but neither of them organises the out-of-hours GP service. An independent contractor arranges this. It transpires the area in which we are included is a large one, ranging across Hertford, Cheshunt, Bishop's Stortford and Royston, and is manned by only one GP at any one time. It appears there are national guidelines which say that as long as a GP can respond to a call-out within two hours that is acceptable. Over the long-term, cover arrangements are based on the number of calls to the service and have been scaled down over a period of time. Because I had not used the service before I had remained blissfully unaware of the level of cover afforded Royston. We are often told that the demands on our ambulance service and our accident and emergency departments are increasing to almost breaking point, but I can't see that making it so difficult to access a doctor during the 70 per cent of the week when our surgeries are closed helps to alleviate this situation in any way. Despite copious reassurances from a plausible spokesperson from the trust, I'm afraid I remain anxious about the level of cover in place for the residents of Royston and the surrounding areas. I began to wonder whether most people are happy with the service and current provision or whether, like me, they are simply unaware of it because of not having to use it. In the light of the Government's concern for a "patient-led NHS" I would be most interested to hear other people's views. ELAINE PATON Melbourn Road Royston - Editor's note: We would also like to know whether people in the area are having difficulty with the GP out-of-hours service.

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