Fears over Norfolk GP service
Patients' lives could be at risk because there are not enough doctors to cover the region's Out of Hours GP service, it was claimed last night.Major problems hit the service last weekend which meant there was not enough staff to cover emergency appointments overnight in parts of Norfolk.
Patients' lives could be at risk because there are not enough doctors to cover the region's Out of Hours GP service, it was claimed last night.
Major problems hit the service last weekend which meant there was not enough staff to cover emergency appointments overnight in parts of Norfolk.
While health bosses said such a shortage was “most unusual” a doctor has come forward to say himself and colleagues have noticed that a lack of staff in evenings and at weekends was “very common”.
Dr Klaus Koch from Theatre Royal surgery in Dereham said there was constant difficulty in filling out-of-hours shifts and said the service was turning descending into a “swamp”.
He said: “I was working this weekend and there were a number of shifts which could not be covered. Quite often there is just one doctor working the whole of a night shift and sometimes there is no cover at all,” he said. “It is too risky to work on your own as a doctor because you cannot properly treat all the patients who need help.
“I know doctors who get on call and they are meant to attend 14 appointments all over the place as well as deal with the out of hours clinic, it is too much.
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“Enough is enough. We can no longer guarantee good quality care. Doctors are not happy anymore. A shortage of staff is not just a one-off - it is happening all the time.”
The service has been run by the East of England Ambulance Trust since 2004 when GPs, under a new contract, opted out of providing patient care out of surgery hours.
It is commissioned by NHS Norfolk and it operates as an emergency service to provide cover in the evenings and weekends for patients who need help when their doctor's surgery is closed.
Last weekend GPs who were working out of hours were told by fax and email that cover was limited and this included some hours where there was no emergency care practitioner cover in Kings Lynn from 10am until 6pm on Saturday and no emergency cover from 8pm until 8am on Sunday/Monday in Norwich.
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, also Liberal Democrat spokesman for health, said the latest incident was “deeply disturbing”.
“I have been concerned about problems with out of hours for some time but now we have some one on the front line telling it how it really is,” he said. “And it really is in a mess. “It seems we can no longer guarantee patients a good quality out of hours service. The situation is intolerable and ultimately we are looking at a situation which could mean the difference between life and death.
“The primary care trust cannot brush this off. It is a serious issue and one that should become subject to a public inquiry if it does not improve.”
Last month health bosses were criticised for using foreign doctors for the out of hours service - after flying them in from other countries due to a shortage of trained staff in the region.
Dr Simon Lockett, medical secretary for Norfolk's Local Medical Committee, said he had not been informed of out-of-hours problems but said he hoped the weekend shortage was “exceptional” else it could lead to “severe problems for patients”.
A spokesman from the East of England Ambulance Service said: “It is fair to say that the Out of Hours service experienced some problems on Saturday when a GP and an emergency care practitioner were unexpectedly unable to cover booked shifts and this placed some pressure on the service. This is most unusual.
“Under the terms of our contract only two bases, Norwich and King's Lynn, operate throughout the night but are backed up with other resources. All calls into the service are triaged and responded to on the basis of clinical need and urgency.
“We are in regular communication with NHS Norfolk and work in partnership with them to provide a good quality GP Out of Hours service for people in Norfolk. We encourage any clinician with concerns to bring them to our attention so that we can fully investigate.”