Fears have been raised for the safety of out-of-hours healthcare in Doncaster.
It has emerged that the borough’s service ran without a single GP at times over the last month.
When doctor’s surgeries close at the end of the working day, patients should be able to access care for urgent medical problems to the same standard offered during normal surgery hours.
However, FCMS – which runs the out-of-hours service on behalf of the NHS Doncaster Clinical Commissioning Group – has admitted to running its services, located at the Urgent Care Centre at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, without a GP for more than 10 hours over the last month.
A spokesman for FCMS said this was due to ‘exceptional circumstances when it has not been possible to cover normal GP shifts,’ and added that, during these times, the service had been led by experienced nurses and advanced practitioners who had the ability to issue prescriptions.
However, Doncaster GP Dr Dean Eggitt called the provision of out-of-hours care without the leadership of a GP – even for a short space of time – ‘irresponsible’.
He believes it could put patients at risk.
He said: “I think this is appalling.”
“It’s potentially dangerous and a serious shortcoming in the service that patients should expect.
“I would call for the CCG and CQC to investigate this urgently with a view to putting a remedial action plan in place as soon as possible.
“This requires urgent attention to ensure the safety of patients.
“I have sympathy for FCMS because we’re in a critical situation with primary care at the moment, but if they can’t provide out-of-hours care run by a GP at all times, then the CCG need to find a provider who can.”
The FCMS spokesman said that doctors were able to provide a combination of on-call support and advice, as well as an on-site presence, to ensure that GP cover was available.
“A reduction in the available GP workforce and a variety of VAT, HMRC and tax issues have meant that over the past two years many providers have found that workforce issues are their ongoing major challenge,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Doncaster CCG added: “We acknowledge that there is a shortage of local GPs who are able to provide out-of-hours cover on top of their busy day jobs, and there have been exceptional circumstances where our provider – FCMS – has struggled to cover scheduled shifts.
“But a service is guaranteed, using a range of suitable workforce skills, and there is always access to GP advice.”
FCMS have also confirmed its ‘in-hours’ services had been run without a GP in charge for almost seven-and-a-half hours over the last month.