Urgent action needed to turn around unsustainable out of hours services, says RCGP Wales

The Welsh Government and local health boards must take five ‘essential and achievable steps’ to turn around GP out of hours services care in Wales, so patients can receive high quality care when they need it, RCGP Wales has said today.

Launching their new action plan, the College calls for an increase in the number of call handlers to ensure patients can access the services they need. Lengthy waits on the phone can mean people are more likely to hang up and call 999 or to go A&E.

‘Meeting urgent needs: improving out of hours services in Wales’ also calls for better use of a wider primary care team, better use of technology, clearer national guidance for those working in the services, and measures to address the wider issues facing general practice.

It comes as the pressure facing out of hours services is increasingly clear. Reports from the Board and Community Health Councils and the Wales Audit Office have highlighted weaknesses. BBC Wales research, published on Thursday 2 August, highlighted a ‘crisis’ in GP out of hours services. Patients are struggling to access services and GPs are having to go above and beyond to try and make things work.

Dr Rebecca Payne, RCGP Wales Chair, said:

“Patients’ needs don’t stop when practices close but evidence is mounting that accessing out of hours services is too difficult.

“GPs are going above and beyond to try and make things work, but the support to deliver services simply isn’t there and patients are feeling the effects.

“The recommendations in our plan are essential, but also achievable. We are not asking for the moon; call handlers should be relatively simple to recruit, they are trained to follow clinically developed pathways and increasing their number would deliver a clear benefit. Patients being unable to access services is a waste of their time and diverts demand to other areas of the health service.

“Wales also needs out of hours services to reflect the modern nature of the primary care workforce, while ensuring services are aided by technology that already exists. Another improvement would be something as basic as staff having clearer guidance to work to.

“The recommendations outlined in our plan would lead to a real improvement in services. Welsh Government and local health boards need to recognise the scale of the problem and implement these solutions as a matter of urgency.”