Patients being left out of the loop on family doctor out-of-hours services, says The King's Fund

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Responding to today's guidance from the Department of Health on primary care out-of-hours cover, The King's Fund fellow Rebecca Rosen said:

'The government is guaranteeing it will provide home visits from family doctors at evenings and weekends when they are needed. The fact that some primary care trusts are trying to withdraw this service while others are continuing to offer it is confusing and worrying for patients. This variable approach to out-of-hours care reflects a lack of clear standards about what patients can reasonably expect.

'Changes in out-of-hours care arrangements in the new GP contract were negotiated between doctors and government with minimal involvement of patients. The policy has the potential to be hugely significant but an opportunity has been missed here to involve the public and gauge their views on the changes.

'We are now left with a situation where patients and the public are justifiably confused about whether or not they will be able to see a family doctor at evenings and weekends when responsibility for providing out-of-hours care transfers from GP practices to local primary care trusts in December.

'But despite this, we believe this is an opportunity to put better systems in place and create better linkages between different parts of the NHS which come together to provide out-of-hours care. The most important challenge is to ensure patients will get a high quality service. Patients need to have confidence in the new system and there is a danger they will use A&E services as a default option if this crucial reorganisation is mishandled. Doctors have a professional duty to ensure that the new out-of-hours services to which they refer their patients are of the highest quality. This may require some to reconsider their decision to opt out of out-of-hours care.'

Notes to editors

1. For further information or interviews, please contact The King's Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585.

2. The King's Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through grants. We are a major resource to people working in health, offering leadership and education courses; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.