Poll finds widespread ignorance about out-of-hours doctor care

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One in four people do not know about out-of-hours GP services, a survey claims today.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said that “notable” proportions of the population do not know they can contact a GP service out of normal office hours or call the NHS 111 helpline.

A poll for the NAO found 26 per cent of people – mainly the young and those from minority ethnic groups – had not heard of out-of-hours care at night or weekends. One in five had not heard of NHS 111. The survey of almost 900 people found those who had not heard of out-of-hours services were almost five times as likely to call 999 at night.

The audit office said: “To use a particular option, people need to be aware of it, know how to contact it, and judge it appropriate for their situation.”

Figures show numbers of cases handled by services at night and weekends have dropped from 8.6 million in 2007-8 to 5.8m in 2013-14, partly due to NHS 111.

It concluded some parts of the NHS in England are getting good value for money services, but this was not the case across the board.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said NHS England had “much to do” to secure improvements.

“It should also work to raise public awareness of how and when patients should contact out-of-hours GP services, and needs to be prepared to take the lead in integrating these services effectively with other parts of the urgent care system,” he said.

The Yorkshire Post has revealed how health chiefs pumped an 
extra £2m into the West Yorkshire Urgent Care service, which provides out-of-hours care, in 
its first year to March, with a similar amount due to be injected in 2014-15 on top of its £12.9m budget.

Demand was 50 per cent higher than expected as it dealt with 240,000 cases in 2013-14.

An NHS England spokesman said it would study the report and work to ensure “patients continue to receive high quality care and access to a GP outside of surgery hours”.

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