Flu exposes out-of-hours failings

Demands placed on out-of-hours services at the height of the swine flu pandemic showed the need to overhaul primary care out-of-hours provision, the RCGP has said.

Dr Baker: out-of-hours overhaul
Dr Baker: out-of-hours overhaul

Out-of-hours services in swine flu hotspots were 'on the verge of just not coping' before the swine flu hotline in England was switched on, RCGP pandemic lead Dr Maureen Baker told MPs last week.

She told the All-Party Group on Primary Care and Public Health that out-of-hours services were a 'weak point' in the health care system.

In any similar situation in future, primary care out-of-hours services would be 'the first to fall over', she warned.

'There is more flexibility and surge capacity in normal general practice,' Dr Baker said. 'But out-of-hours works very tightly with very few GPs or support people.'

Systems would need to be overhauled ahead of any similar situation facing the health service, she said.

'I would strongly suggest that out-of-hours provision could be looked at as something that does need to be addressed and shored up,' she said.

'In our preparations, although we thought about out-of-hours, it is something that I would want to put a lot more effort into next time around.'

The RCGP will be hosting a summit in March to look at the problems encountered during the pandemic, Dr Baker said.

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