Decline in use of GP out-of-hours services

According to a recent National Audit Office report looking at GP out-of-hours services, the total number of cases handled by GP out-of-hours services has fallen by 2.8 million since 2008. The significant fall is partly due to the introduction of the NHS 111 telephone service.

The NAO report published the following findings:

  • Although some parts of the NHS in England are achieving value for money regarding spending on GP out-of-hours services, this is not the case across the board.
  • It is estimated that GP out-of-hours services cost less now, in real terms, than they did in 2005/06. However, the NHS 111 service makes comparisons difficult.
  • The majority of patients are positive about their experience of GP out-of-hours services.
  • An earlier survey conducted in May 2014, found that over a quarter of people (26 per cent) had not heard of GP out-of-hours services, with awareness amongst certain groups, including younger people and people from black and ethnic minority communities, lower than other groups.

Other figures from the report include:

  • 5.8 million estimated cases handled by GP out-of-hours services during 2013-14.
  • 800,000 estimated home visits were conducted by out-of-hours GPs during 2013-14.
  • The estimated cost of GP out-of-hours services is £400 million.
  • £7.50 is the estimated average cost per person of GP out-of-hours services during 2013-14.
  • Estimated proportion of GP practices that have retained responsibility for out-of-hours care is 10%.
  • 66% of people rated their experience of out-of-hours GP services as ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ in July 2014.
  • 85% of providers started at least 90% of face-to-face consultations with urgently ill patients within two hours in September and December 2013.
  • 87% of clinical commissioning groups that manage an out-of-hours contract receive performance information on a monthly basis at least.

Professor Steve Field, Chief Inspector of General Practice at said: “We welcome the findings of the National Audit Office report into GP out-of-hours services. These services provided much needed care to patients and their families in often urgent situations. The report reveals that although the majority of patients have a positive experience of GP out-of-hours services, more still needs to be done to ensure that these services are effectively integrated with other parts of the urgent care system, including A&E departments and 999 call handling. We will be publishing our report on GP out-of-hours services in a few weeks’ time. The National Audit Office report looks at value for money, meanwhile our report will be complimentary but will focus on how services are progressing and will draw upon our experiences of GP inspections.”

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