Northern Ireland GPs call for control of out-of-hours care

LMCs in Northern Ireland have called for GPs to opt back into organising and commissioning out-of-hours services.

Dr Alan Stout: lessons from NHS 111 show GPs must be involved in out--of-hours care (photo: BMA)
Dr Alan Stout: lessons from NHS 111 show GPs must be involved in out--of-hours care (photo: BMA)

Speaking at the annual Northern Ireland LMC conference, deputy chair of GPC Northern Ireland Dr Alan Stout said doctors had only to look at NHS 111 in England to see what could happen if GPs did not take a role in delivering out-of-hours services.

LMC leaders backed a motion that said: 'The time is right for GPs to opt back into the organisation and commissioning of the delivery of GP out of hours’.

Dr Stout said the call was ‘absolutely not about GPs reassuming personal responsibility for out of hours’. But he said it was about GPs reassuming responsibility for organisation of services, and ensuring adequate funding.

He warned that if GPs did not get involved in service delivery, the consequences, as seen with NHS 111 in England, would likely seep into GP in-hours services.

Dr Stout said the basic principle of NHS 111 - the single point of entry - could be good if done correctly. But, he warned against ‘another delivery mechanism for an unscheduled care service’ without primary care expertise.

Dr Peter Beckett of Southern LMC said GPs had ‘taken their eye off the ball’ in distancing themselves from out-of-hours care. He said the way services had developed meant doctors' working conditions and patient care were not being properly looked after, so it was now time for LMCs and GPC Northern Ireland to look at out-of-hours care.

Dr Beckett said the motion was ‘not about necessarily each principal having to go back and do out of hours; this is about commissioning, setting the specifications, getting the terms and conditions right, and getting a better quality of care for our patients’.

NIGPC chair, Dr Tom Black said integrated care partnerships — being introduced as part of the Transforming Your Care reforms — and GP federations would likely take responsibility for out-of-hours.

The conference also passed a motion insisting that whoever is responsible for organising out of hours services, GPs should not be required to work outside of core contract hours.

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