Out-of-hours GP services should start assessments within 20 minutes for patients classified as urgent and within 60 minutes for all other patients, according to DoH guidelines. But a third of PCTs in England do not meet these requirements, the Healthcare Commission found.
There was also wide variation in the proportion of calls classified as urgent, from 32 per cent in some areas to 4 per cent in others. Such variation raises concerns about the consistency with which these criteria are assessed.
The report also found that 44 per cent of GP out-of-hours services have arrangements to automatically divert calls from surgeries when they are closed.
The review, entitled 'Not just a matter of time', was based on data gathered from out-of- hours and urgent GP services as well as A&E, urgent care services and NHS Direct across PCTs in England. Surveys from patients, those providing services and PCTs were also used.
The Healthcare Commission said that PCTs needed to monitor out-of-hours services and assess patients' experience and to improve communication between different providers of out-of-hours services.
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