Return to GP out-of-hours duty 'dangerous', GPC warns

GPs cannot take back out-of-hours care safely because many already work 12-hour days, the GPC has warned.

Dr Laurence Buckman: patients should not face over-tired GPs
Dr Laurence Buckman: patients should not face over-tired GPs

Outgoing GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman told a Westminster Health Forum event on 18 June that he did not think that GPs would be forced to work out of hours. But he said they were likely to be 'involved' in supervising the service.

In a question and answer session at the event, a patient in his 80s told Dr Buckman that the profession should take back responsibility for providing out-of-hours care.

The patient, who writes The Patient from Hell column in the Guardian, under the pseudonym Dick Vinegar, said he received ‘loads of hate mail from GPs’ when he wrote that they should take back out-of-hours duty in an article last week.

‘What is going on?’ he asked Dr Buckman.

‘Nobody should get hate mail,' Dr Buckman told him. ‘Most GPs are now – I know the Daily Mail only knows one that works for half an hour and plays golf – but everyone else is working typically, me included, typically a 12-hour plus day. And that is not out-of-hours.

‘Many of us now perceive the hours that we are working as dangerous. When I am in my 14th hour, I know I’m not thinking straight. I don’t think patients deserve that.

‘Many GPs, whatever the out-of-hours arrangement, will look after the terminally ill. But for everybody else there has to be a point where you stop working because it is not safe. I believe that point has been reached. You are still entitled to your opinion.

‘I hope you don’t reply to a single letter because you shouldn’t.’

LMCs rejected a return to GPs taking back out-of-hours care at the UK LMCs conference last month, after health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would overhaul the GMS contract to enforce reforms that will hand back the responsibility to GPs.

A GP survey this month revealed that 80% of GPs rejected a return to out-of-hours duty. The poll found that one in 10 GPs would consider early retirement ‘if the government hands GPs any extra role in shaping or delivering out-of-hours primary care’. Fifty per cent could quit if forced to take back full 24-hour responsibility, it found.

A major review into urgent care services published this week warned that GPs are under 'considerable strain' and that the workforce has insufficient capacity to meet 'current and expected needs'.

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