Chairwoman Professor Clare Gerada said patients had lost confidence in the system which, while working well in some areas, was ‘seriously flawed’ in others, leaving patients not knowing where to turn for help.
The comments came as latest figues reveal the failings in the service. Offical monthly statistics from NHS England showed patients were left waiting longer for calls to be answered and more calls were abandoned than the previous month.
Professor Gerada hit out at ministers’ criticisms of GPs, who have been blamed for pressure on urgent care services, and said the responsibility for the problem lay at the door of government.
She said: ‘Once again, GPs are bearing the brunt of the criticism when it is GPs who came to the rescue to protect patients and save the system from total collapse over Easter, and who are continuing to shore it up’, she said.
The triage phone service had been rolled out ‘far too early’, Professor Gerada said, adding that there was unnecessary pressure on some sites to go live before they were ready.
‘We are also concerned about how the service itself is being run - some areas seem to be properly resourced with well-trained clinical staff whilst in other areas it is struggling to cope with insufficient numbers of "call centre" handlers, some of whom have received only a few weeks training. This is having a significant impact, not just on emergency care but on GP surgeries, walk-in centres and urgent care centres.’
Last week, NHS England announced urgent reviews to examine the sustainability of the service model and consider the actions of ‘predecessor organisations’, including how contracts had been awarded to providers who could not provide the service.
Deputy chief executive Dame Barbara Hakin warned that failing providers faced fines or contract cancellations. But there had been ‘very significant improvements’ overall in recent weeks, she added.
Professor Gerada also warned ministers against diverting funds from general practice to deal with pressure on urgent and emergency care. She said although RCGP would welcome a promise of new funds for A&E, it was vital that does not come at the expense of general practice.
NHS England yesterday announced an A&E performance improvement plan which could see GPs sit on local Urgent Care Boards.
Monthly figures from NHS England showed the number of calls abandoned after 30 seconds waiting rose from 3% in February to 8% in March. The number of calls answered in 60 seconds fell from 90% to 84%.