GP out-of-hours services – your health in their hands

9 July 2012

A MORI opinion poll conducted on behalf of the government has found that 4 in 10 patients did not know how to contact their GP out-of-hours and that 3 in 10 felt it took too long to be treated. A worrying 1 in 5 said they did not have confidence in the doctor or nurse who dealt with them. Practice report - The GP Patient Survey Results 2010 (or for a summary of the report, please see http://www.gp-patient.co.uk/results/download/_y6q2/Y6W2_Summary.pdf)

Lack of patient confidence in out-of-hours services is somewhat understandable given the recent allegations which have been made regarding Serco, the private company who provide out-of-hours GP services on behalf of the NHS. (Serco investigated over claims of 'unsafe' out-of-hours GP service) Whistleblowers alleged that Serco was providing an "unsafe" service, and that it manipulated results where it failed to meet government targets. Allegations included that queues of up to 90 patients at a time had been allowed to build up at Serco’s telephone helpline, that targets had been met by adjusting figures to blame delays on patients, and that doctors were repeatedly taken off roving duties in order to operate clinics and hotlines because Serco had too few staff on duty to cover the area. Serco and Cornwall NHS PCT deny that patient safety was ever at risk.

Whether or not there is found to be truth in the allegations against Serco, it is sadly not the first time that out-of-hours services have come under question. The case of 70 year old David Gray, who died in February 2008 after being given a morphine overdose by Dr Daniel Ubani on his first shift as an out of hours doctor, was referred to as “gross negligence and manslaughter” by Coroner William Morris. This tragic case raised questions over the efficiency and standard of out-of-hours services being provided by private companies on behalf of the NHS. (Daniel Ubani inquest: NHS failings allowed killer doctor to work - Telegraph)

Concerns over out-of-hours care are at the heart of some of the claims we come across as clinical negligence lawyers at Kingsley Napley. For example, home visits by a doctor may be delayed, particularly when a patient’s condition has not been adequately “triaged” during the initial contact with the out-of-hours service. Or, more commonly still, we come across cases where the out-of-hours doctor has attended the patient but has not appreciated the significance of that patient’s condition or their history and so the patient is not referred to hospital in time to receive the treatment that they need. These are the sorts of delays that can have devastating consequences, particularly when a patient has a condition – such as meningitis - where their health can deteriorate irreversibly during the time that it is untreated. 

If you would like advice in relation to a clinical negligence case, please contact the Clinical Negligence and Personal Injury team on 020 7814 1200 or by email at clinnegenquiries@kingsleynapley.co.uk

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