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Out-of-hours medical care failing on urgent calls

By Staff
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LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) Fewer than one in 10 primary care trusts providing evening and weekend medical care meets government targets on responding to urgent patient calls, the National Audit Office (NAO) said today.

The trusts took over providing out of hours care from most general practitioners last year but have yet to provide a satisfactory standard of service, the NAO said in a report.

One in five patients polled for the report said after-hours care was very poor, although most said it was either excellent or good.

The new service, which came in force after GPs were allowed to opt out of providing out-of-hours care, is also costing 70 million pounds a year more than the 322 million pounds allocated by the Department of Health, the NAO added.

It said greater efficiency could save 134 million pounds a year without compromising the quality of care.

The trusts had little experience of managing out-of-hours care, leading to a number of early problems with the service.

The NAO found that less than 10 percent of trusts met targets to start clinical assessment within 20 minutes of urgent calls and within 60 minutes for all other calls.

John Bourn, head of the NAO, said it was ''disappointing'' there were so many problems in the switchover.

''I am concerned that so few providers are meeting their targets for the time it takes to respond to patients.'' The NHS Confederation said primary care trusts were learning fast from their first year of providing out-of-hours care.

''Patients now have a choice of a wide range of out-of-hours providers including nurse-led walk-in centres, NHS Direct, GP co-ops and minor injury units.'' Health Minister Lord Warner said the government would work with the NAO to improve the service.

Reuters VJ VP0525

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