GPs urged to work weekends to create 'seven-day NHS'

More GPs should be available at weekends so the NHS can offer high-quality care seven days a week, according to a report by medical colleges.

Out of hours: report says more GPs needed at weekends

The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges said the lack of available community services is a 'major limiting factor' holding back hospitals from discharging patients on weekends.

It called for more 'consultant-to-GP' handovers on weekends so hospitals can discharge patients into community care on any day of the week. It may mean more GPs would need to work out of hours to provide the service.

The GPC said hospitals too often discharge patients without ensuring community support is in place.

The report from 20 colleges and faculties including the RCGP said patients' next steps in their care should not be delayed because hospital or community services are unavailable on certain days of the week. Patients should expect to receive the same standard of care regardless of when they need it, it said.

The academy said GP out-of-hours services should be expanded so certain patients can be handed over from hospital to community care on any day of the week, including bank holidays.

The report, Seven Day Consultant Present Care, said: 'For some patients, progression of the care pathway may benefit from direct communication between the consultant and GP. Current arrangements for out-of-hours primary care at weekends do not facilitate such direct communication.'

It added: ‘Given that GPs provide the equivalent of "consultant-present care" for patients in the community, the provision of direct "consultant-to-GP" handover for selected patients at weekends would help to ensure that they remain on the appropriate care pathway after discharge from hospital.’

'Huge challenge'

Research suggests patients are more likely to die if admitted to hospital at a weekend than a weekday.

The report calls for consultants to review patients at least once every 24 hours to avoid current delays in diagnosis, investigation, treatment and discharge from hospital.

President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England Professor Norman Williams, who led the report committee, said: ‘It cannot be right that over weekends and bank holidays, patients may receive a lower standard of care than they would during the week.’

He said primary and secondary care would need to ‘reshape services’ to offer the weekend support. ‘Ensuring that key staff are available to provide this support will come at a cost. However this is crucial for the full benefit of seven-day consultant-led care to be realised,’ he said.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said the availability of GPs on weekends was 'not the major factor that allows patients to be discharged, but appropriate care planning by hospitals and support when required by community nursing and social service teams'.

He added: 'This is the case every day of the week and too often hospitals are discharging patients without this community support being in place.'

Dr Paul Flynn, BMA consultants committee chairman, said seven-day hospital care is a ‘huge challenge’ for consultants and hospital managers and needed flexibility in working across different areas.

Sir Richard Thompson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said although the college supported the idea of consultant reviews every 24 hours, the plan may increase NHS costs.

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