RCGP honorary secretary Professor Amanda Howe said GPs could help to avoid hospital admissions if they were able to contact consultants for advice outside of normal hours.
A recent report by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges called for consultants to be available seven days a week so that hospital inpatients are reviewed every 24 hours and can be discharged on weekends or bank holidays.
It said consultant availability varies widely, leading to patients' care pathways being placed into 'hibernation', particularly on weekends. This causes delays in diagnosis, investigation, treatment and discharge from hospital.
Professor Howe told GP: 'We welcome the report because there are times when it would be great to speak to someone from the consultant team. You can get the on-call team, but they are set up to admit, not to give advice.'
She said the report's proposals, if adopted, would be 'really helpful' for general practice, particularly for GPs considering whether frail patients need to be admitted to hospital on weekends. 'One of the good things about 24/7 care is it should enable us to speak to someone relevant from the care team, which should help us to avoid admissions,' she said.
Professor Howe added that if seven-day care improved in hospitals, the college may consider a 'reciprocal project' examining whether community services need to change to match this.
But she played down the report's suggestion that there should be more consultant-to-GP handovers on weekends. 'The case would still need to be made,' she said. 'If there is a case to show people going home [from hospital] on Saturday have problems on Sunday where current GP services can't deal with it... if there was that, we would have to look at whether the system needs to alter.'