GPs could be given a stronger role in the commissioning of out-of-hours care, officials have hinted.
Jill Matthews, DoH director of primary and community care, told last week's Primary Care 2009 conference in Birmingham: 'We have to look at out of hours.
'We have some excellent providers but GPs should be involved,' she added. 'They should play a part in what out-of-hours care looks like.'
GP leaders welcomed the suggestion that GPs could be given more responsibility for commissioning out-of-hours services. This would bring the government in line with policies proposed by the GPC, the NHS Alliance and the Conservatives, they added.
Dr Michael Dixon, chairman of the NHS Alliance, said that Ms Matthews' comments suggested that the DoH had realised that 'the closer the out-of-hours commissioner is to the provider of the day care, the better'.
But he added that he had seen little evidence the DoH was moving in that direction of its own accord. 'It is being led by patients, the media and those GPs who think the pendulum has swung too far,' he said.
GPC negotiator Dr Chaand Nagpaul welcomed Ms Mat-thews' comments, because they suggested the DoH was coming into line with BMA policy. But he added that a shift in attitudes among PCTs would be needed before GPs could influence the quality of out-of-hours services.
'In theory, the practice-based commissioning (PBC) budget includes out of hours,' he said. 'But PBC has failed to take off, and PCTs have not allowed GPs to play their full part in commissioning out-of-hours care.'