Current arrangements for out-of-hours GP services are inadequate and are forcing people to seek treatment at hospitals, a new report claims.
The study said: "Patient access to "out-of-hospital" general practice or community-based acute medical care, especially out of hours, is largely inadequate and inflexible.
"Too often patients present to acute hospitals because there is nowhere else for them to go to get the reassurance and care they need.
"An expansion of the range of services, providers and facilities offering unscheduled and acute medical care in the community is required."
Health minister Ben Bradshaw said: "We welcome this report and are already making sure that people have access to care around the clock.
"Primary care trusts must deliver high quality out-of-hours care, and in addition, patients have access to a range of other services that can provide urgent care out of hours including NHS Direct and NHS walk-in centres.
"We have invested record amounts in out-of-hours services and patients are seeing the benefits - eight out of 10 patients say that they are satisfied with the service, and six out of 10 rated the service as excellent or good."
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"In the Cambridge area we have an excellent out-of-hours service, Camdoc, which has continued to be run by the local GPs and maintained the high standard. The contract is up for renewal soon and I wonder if our PCT will feel that they want to pay for this high-quality service or look for a cheaper alternative which would have a knock-on effect in-hours" – Name and address supplied
"In my area (Banbury and north Oxon) we have an excellent service operated by local GPs. Our patients have benefitted from a stable arrangement that operated in a similar form before the new arrangement came into being. In rural areas services tend to be different from those in cities and I do appreciate the difficulties. The Government has managed to underestimate the cost of taking on the OOH services and are now realising what a good deal they had before they agreed the new contract" - Name and address supplied
"On Wirral we have an excellent out-of-hours service, which is staffed by local GPs rather than private providers. Unfortunately, it is misused by the some members of the public who treat it as a place to get a second opinion and then go to A&E when they don't get the answer they want to hear. If certain members of the public used the system the way it was meant to be used may of the problems would disappear. I really think that this government is pandering to the public and trying to give it a service that has unrealistic expectations and that it can't afford to pay for" - Allan Stewart, Wirral