No extra cash for out-of-hours care

SUFFOLK’s out-of-hours GP care service will not receive any more funding as the current budget is already “adequate”, the health secretary has told the East Anglian Daily Times.

However the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, believes more money is needed to improve the service and the Liberal Democrat candidate for the town, Mark Dyson, thinks the whole system needs to change.

In 2004 the GP contract allowed doctors to opt out of their commitment to out-of-hours service in return for a �6,000 pay cut. This money was then given to the primary care trusts (PCTs) to fund the services they commission.

The amount spent on the out-of-hours care has been raised as an issue in the past, as the contract to run the service is just over �6million (which equates to under �9 per head).

And an inquest in February criticised the then out-of-hours provider, Ipswich-based Take Care Now, after German doctor Daniel Ubani administered 10 times the normal dose of diamorphine to David Gray in Cambridgeshire in 2008, killing him.

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Dr Ubani admitted being exhausted after only having a couple of hours sleep before starting his shift in the UK, and said he was confused about the difference between drugs used here and in Germany.

An EADT survey to all GPs in the county last December revealed that the vast majority of those who responded – 78% – claimed not enough cash was allocated to the service by NHS Suffolk.

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Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for health, said the current funding level is “adequate” to provide a good out-of-hours service and claimed GPs do not want a return to the old system, where they worked evenings and weekends as it left them “exhausted”.

Mr Burnham said: “We have funded PCTs to provide a good out-of-hours service in every area. We expect all PCTs to make appropriate investment in out-of-hours service that secures the necessary standards for the public. There are things we need to do to improve the way in which out-of-hours services are monitored and there are a whole range of steps we have in hand. The funding is adequate [to provide a good quality service].

“We want to support PCTs in getting value for money. A good out-of-hours provision is essential.”

He added that the Labour government planned to encourage the out-of-hours service to work more with the ambulance service and walk-in health provision.

Mr Gummer said �4.5billion went into paying for NHS administration but, if elected, his party planned to make savings of �1.5bn in this area by the end of their five-year term by cutting back on the Strategic Health Authority and PCTs.

He said: “That money would go back into the front line. The out-of-hours system is clearly not working. We need to give people the flexibility about how they want to provide it. We have got to give that money to GPs so they can spend it [on an out-of-hours service] in whatever way they see fit.”

Mark Dyson, the town’s Liberal Democrat candidate, said: “One of the things we are going to introduce would be the right for everyone to have telephone or e-mail consultation with their GP.

“Out-of-hours service would be under the influence of the local health boards, which would be made up of elected local people. The local health boards would commission out-of-hours care and local GPs would be directly involved. GPs would have the responsibility to ensure their patients get the right out-of-hours care.

“Throwing money at a problem does not do anything more than create new levels of administration or quangos. We want to reform the current GP contract.”

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