Scottish GPs are calling for the Scottish Government and NHS Scotland to do more to raise awareness of the role of NHS 24.
The BMA’s Scottish General Practitioner Committee has urged the Scottish government to commission research to find out why patients are seeking more support out-of-hours and the decision making process that they go through when contacting an out-of-hours service.
A report on out-of-hours care in rural areas published by the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee earlier this year concluded that urgent action was needed to resolve shortcomings.
Members of the Scottish Parliament said patients remained confused about the role of NHS 24 and who to contact out-of-hours and recommended that health boards should be given responsibility for delivering coordinated services.
Following publication of the report, some politicians in Scotland have suggested that the GP contract should be renegotiated to solve some of the concerns about out-of-hours services.
However, this week the BMA’s SGPC set out a list of improvements it wanted to see; but said none of them would require a renegotiation of the GP contract.
Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of the SGPC, said: “There is a perception amongst politicians and some members of the public that the problems with out-of- hours care stem from the introduction of the GP contract in 2004. That is not the case.”
The SGPC said the 2004 contract which allowed GPs to transfer responsibility for out-of-hours care to the local NHS board was designed to combat a crisis in general practice and that there was no going back to the old ‘Dr Finlay’ model of general practice.
The SGPC said the health helpline NHS 24 had made significant improvements since a review into the service in 2005 but added that “further improvements are necessary and a concerted effort is required to try to win back the confidence of the profession.”
It said NHS 24 should focus on improving its core business of call triage and integration with local services rather than planning further service expansion.
It said that demand for NHS emergency and out-of-hours care was increasing and although NHS 24 was taking on the role of telephone triage demand continued to rise.
The SGPC called for greater integration between NHS 24 and local services and said health boards should consider mapping urgent care services in the community to monitor demand and to avoid gaps and duplication of provision.
Dr Buist added: “Out-of-hours care encompasses all aspects of the health service: general practice, secondary care and community care, all of which can be accessed by first contacting NHS 24.
"More should be done to promote NHS 24 to the public as the first point of contact for non emergency calls out-of-hours.”
The SGOC also called for out-of-hours quality standards to be reviewed and said involving GPs and other service providers in the planning and coordination of services could deliver real improvements for patients.
MSPs were due to debate the Health and Sport Committee’s report on out-of-hours care in rural areas this week but the debate was cancelled due to an emergency bill.