A sharp rise in demand for GP out-of-hours services in recent weeks has left them coping with up to 15% more work than at the same time last year, according to a survey of providers.
In the latest sign of the winter crisis engulfing parts of the NHS, Urgent Health UK (UHUK), which represents social enterprise providers, said its members had seen a significant increase in demand compared with last year.
Twelve GP out-of-hours providers reported year-on-year demand increases over the holiday period of up to 15%, the UHUK poll found.
Providers also reported continuing staffing problems, an issue raised in a National Audit Office report published on Wednesday that found that extended hours schemes rolled out by the government were competing for the same staff that out-of-hours organisations rely on, and overlapping with the service they provide.
Most organisations surveyed, however, said NHS England’s £30m winter indemnity programme to cover out-of-hours insurance costs had helped recruitment. They also reported increases in 111 calls as well as busier secondary care.
UHUK chair Dr Simon Abrams said that despite out-of-hours providers seeing higher demand than in recent years, local systems and provider organisations had been better prepared with special arrangements in place ahead of the Christmas period. But there were continuing problems filling out-of-hours sessions.
Dr Abrams called for the GP out-of-hours sector to be given proper recognition for the role it plays. ‘I firmly believe we are not given the credit for how much work we actually keep out of A&Es,' he said. ‘And good out-of-hours services that work effectively throughout the winter and the rest of the year will absorb a lot of work that might otherwise turn up at A&E. We see a huge number of patients.’
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