Confused patients are clogging up hospital accident and emergency departments because they struggle to understand the complex system of out-of-hours NHS care, according a to a highly critical report.
NHS England is criticised for failing to secure value for money when it comes to out-of-hours GP care in the report published today which also raises concerns that in some cases doctors are commissioning services from organisations in which they have a financial interest.
The Public Accounts Committee of MPs found the cost of providing out-of-hours care varied significantly across the country ,ranging from less than £29 per case to more than £134.
Patient satisfaction levels were also inconsistent with the proportion rating their experience as ‘very good’ or ‘fairly good’ anything from less than half in some areas to 86 per cent in others.
PAC chairman Margaret Hodge said: “People turn to out-of-hours GP services when they are worried about their own health or that of family or friends, and want urgent advice or treatment.
“However, the urgent and emergency care system is complex and people struggle to know which is the right service to use.
“Too many people are unaware of the different urgent care options – such as out-of-hours GP services, walk-in centres, urgent care centres and A&E departments – and of how to contact them. This means people may not receive care in the most appropriate setting. As a result of the confusion, too many go to A&E when they do not need to.”
The MPs’ report also found that NHS England currently has no idea how many GPs it will need by the end of the decade.
An NHS England spokesman said: “GPs are working incredibly hard, and for less than the cost of a cinema ticket they provide everyone in this country with year-round access to out-of-hours GP and 111 services. What’s more the real terms cost of doing so has been coming down year by year.”
The report was “right to underline the benefits” of much greater integration” of services set out in plans for the future of the NHS, he said.