Urgent Health UK, a federation of social enterprise unscheduled primary care providers in England, said its members had reported 20-50% increases in out-of-hours activity over Christmas and New Year, compared with a year ago.
Urgent Health UK chief executive Dr John Horrocks said many providers had been forced to incur extra costs by employing additional staff.
‘These providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, they have to spend more money on staff but it's money they don’t have.’
The federation warned that the pressure on out-of-hours providers would continue to increase with the introduction of NHS 111. It called on commissioners not to ‘seek unrealistic cuts’ in providers’ funding.
Dr Horrocks said that following the introduction of NHS 111 there would be ‘an awful lot of out-of-hours providers knocking on commissioners' doors, asking for more funding'.
Dr Mark Reynolds, chair of Urgent Health UK said: ‘Workload is rising, but many services have seen a significant reduction in funding over recent years.
‘More patients are turning to us as surgeries also become busier, and some cannot see all the patients who contact them during the day about urgent problems.’
‘This, combined with changes to the way ambulance services and NHS Direct manage patients has led to the rise in the number of patients we see. During our hours of operation we deal with more patients than A&E departments, NHS Direct, or the ambulance services.’
Dr Horrocks added that the heavy workload put pressure on staff. ‘Staff will have been very busy. It’s not good for clinicians to be overworked.’