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GPs unable to track phone services

Lack of equipment leaves calls unmonitored

Primary care trusts are not adequately monitoring out of hours telephone calls, according to a committee of MPs.

Out of hours telephone services delivered by GP surgeries are not being monitored because of a lack of equipment, says a report from Parliament's Public Accounts Committee.

The report, which examines the effects of government changes to GP services at evenings and weekends, found that the percentage of primary care trusts (PCTs) meeting the requirements for call answering, clinical assessment, and consultation times was "extremely low". Only two per cent said they could comply with one standard, the report says.

Quality performance targets set by the Department of Health include a number of requirements for calls to out of hours services. For example, all calls should be answered within 30 seconds, or 60 seconds if there is an interim recorded message.

The committee says the inability to provide data remains a key problem for PCTs. Some trusts have had problems with their IT systems, especially call management technology.

Financial constraints are preventing the roll out of technology to improve call management, says the report.

Giving evidence to the committee, Gary Belfield, the Department of Health's head of primary care, said: "One of the problems with telephone answering is that if the out of hours provider does not have a call management system he cannot record how long people have been waiting, and that is something we need to address.

"That is why sometimes it is found, for example in (my) own constituency, that no data has been supplied."

Some nine million patients receive urgent primary treatment at evenings and weekends, but the committee found that the introduction of a new system of care has been "thoroughly mishandled".

"To cap it all, the cost of the new out of hours service is around £70m a year more than expected. That's the last thing the primary care trusts need at a time of increasing financial pressure," said committee chair Edward Leigh.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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