Fears over out-of-hours surgeries axe

By Liz Hearnshaw and Benedict O'ConnorA PLAN to axe out-of-hours doctors' surgeries in some towns and villages will put people's lives at risk, it has been claimed.

By Liz Hearnshaw and Benedict O'Connor

A PLAN to axe out-of-hours doctors' surgeries in some towns and villages will put people's lives at risk, it has been claimed.

Suffolk West Primary Care Trust wants to take over the running of out-of-hours GP services from surgeries from October. Although GPs will still cover the whole area, they will all be based in Bury St Edmunds, rather than in individual towns and villages.

The trust said at peak times, such as weekends and Bank holidays, doctors would be available at surgeries in Sudbury, Newmarket and Haverhill between 9am and 1pm, but residents and a patients' group said that was not good enough.

A spokesman for West Suffolk Public and Patient Involvement in Health Forum said: "Many patients won't be able to travel that far and patients lives could be put at risk."

Concerned pensioner Pip Elton, 77, from Cockfield, labelled the plan "a shambles" and said he also feared lives could be endangered as a result of the changes.

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"I had an occasion a couple of years ago when I really thought I was a gonner. It was difficult enough then to get a doctor to come out then, so what it will be like under the changes I do not know," he added.

If I am here on my own, the only thing I can do if I feel poorly is call out an ambulance. I cannot call out a doctor, that is quite clear as they will tell me to come into Bury. Quite honestly, if I am poorly, the last thing I want to do is drive a car eight miles into town.

"I believe people's lives will be at risk. Quite frankly, I am worried and it is not just me who feels this way, but many people in the west Suffolk area."

The trust wants to adopt the scheme in response to the new national GP contract, which aims improve working conditions for GPs, who will only be responsible for their patients between 8am and 6.30pm.

Its chief executive, Tony Ranzetta, said: "We have chosen this approach because we believe it offers the best way to provide safe and effective care for patients outside of normal hours.

"Between midnight and 8am, doctors receive relatively few calls from patients - for a town the size of Sudbury or Haverhill, the average is around three calls a night.

"It makes sense to match the number of GPs with the demands on the service and this can best be done centrally."

Mr Ranzetta added 60% of night-time calls to doctors were resolved by the GP giving advice over the phone.

"We are also aiming to train more nurse practitioners to treat minor ailments and help ease the workload on GPs," he said.

"However, proper healthcare training cannot be done immediately. It will be some time before the right number of qualified health professionals can be recruited. Meanwhile, centralised out-of-hours GP cover will enable us to treat patients safely and effectively."