Comment on Guardian newspaper article re. Cornwall urgent care out-of-hours GP service (Serco)

Posted on: 28th May 2012

Commenting on a report at the weekend in The Guardian newspaper in which he was quoted, MP for the West Cornwall and Isles of Scilly constituency of St Ives, Andrew George, said:

“A pattern and number of cases which constituents have brought to my attention over the last year have given rise to concerns which it was only appropriate that I should bring to the attention of the Care Quality Commission. I am pleased that they are undertaking an investigation. Patients’ interests must be upheld and protected.

“I had previously raised concerns with both Serco and the Primary Care Trust. Both had sought to respond by providing reassurances that the service is working well and that the patient satisfaction levels – according to surveys – were very good.

“There are 168 hours in a week and two thirds of those are ‘out of hours’. It is therefore essential that patients should be able to be seen by a GP where there is an urgent need for them to do so. It is therefore essential that the out of hours service is fit for purpose. Doctor and nurse cover at the service has been, on occasions, threadbare. There has been particular concern regarding GP cover at weekends, though I am pleased to note that Serco has made notable efforts to recruit more doctors to the service in recent times, especially since these concerns have been raised with them.

“Personally, I am not convinced that the responsibility of patient assessments by clinically unqualified call handlers is a safe and effective method of interfacing with those calling the service, often in a distressed state. I understand that cost-cutting measures will be desirable to the private company providing the service, but I have never been convinced that a ‘nursing by numbers’ response is appropriate for such an important urgent care service.”


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