Concern grows over out-of-hours medical care

OUT-of-hours medical care is failing older people and those who live in rural areas of Suffolk, it has been claimed.

Naomi Gornall

By Naomi Gornall, Health reporter>

OUT-of-hours medical care is failing older people and those who live in rural areas of Suffolk, it has been claimed.

Members of Suffolk County Council's Health Scrutiny Committee yesterday discussed the out-of-hours service, run by independent company Take Care Now, which has come under fire for failing in certain areas, including unfilled shifts and its policies for dispensing medicine.

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Some councillors argued that for those living in rural parts of Suffolk, the service is not up to standard, as people are often forced to take the long journey to the Riverside Centre in Ipswich for treatment.

One of the complaints is that there is rarely a doctor available at the Wickham Market resource centre outside normal working hours, meaning people have to go to the clinic in Landseer Road.

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However, NHS Suffolk, which commissions the service, and TCN, claimed there is no obligation to provide an out-of-hours service from a specific base as long as patients are within a catchment area to be seen by a doctor within 30 minutes from making their call.

Committee member Michael Bond said: “Residents in Wickham Market have repeatedly contacted me about the seriously deteriorated cover. The 35,000 people around the Wickham Market area simply want an assurance that the centre will be available to them at certain hours outside the normal working time.”

Bryan Wright, chairman of the Ipswich Hospital and NHS Suffolk Older People's User Group, who lives in Wickham Market, said: “I have used TCN services and I feel it has failed to utilise facilities in Wickham Market. TCN fails older people who cannot drive or travel the 30 minutes to their nearest centre. They end up having to call an ambulance.”

Jon Reynolds, head of service development and contract manager at NHS Suffolk, said: “There are rural challenges we have to meet.

“We have to place bases strategically. It comes down to access versus affordability issue.”

Bids for a new contract are currently being evaluated and will be decided by NHS Suffolk next month. The new service will start in April 2010. Before the contract is signed, members have called to see a draft copy of it in order to determine what GP cover there will be for those living in rural areas.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Dr Graeme Kelvin, chairman of the TCN Board and a GP, said: “We are in the business of trying to provide a quality service which is patient centred. We do not get it right all of the time - no organisation can. The majority of people are happy with the service.”

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