A manager warned that an out of hours provider for doctors was ‘unsafe’ with two GPs and one ANP [advanced nurse practitioner] in East Kent and two ANPs in West Kent overnight.
This was at a time when a patient in West Kent [an area that includes Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge] was described as ‘actively dying’. The unnamed patient waited six and a half hours for a visit.
The Health Service Journal reported that during a weekend in September, Lesley Williams, a device delivery manager, emailed senior managers with the situation.
This said: “Having seen the screen myself this morning I need to let you know that the service is currently unsafe and has been overnight.
“The overnight staff are quite upset as they are being called constantly chasing call-backs by paramedics and 111 because we are failing to contact patients due to lack of clinical staff.”
The email was sent at 8am on Sunday, September 9, and said at that moment in time 130 people in Kent were waiting for advice, 67 were waiting to be seen at bases and nine required a visit.
The figures do not break down for individual towns.
IC24, a non-for-profit social enterprise, provides cover for 1.4million in Kent [excluding Swale and Medway] – as well as five other southern counties.
It said a GP shift was not filled over that weekend.
Dr Andrew Catto, IC24 deputy chief executive, said: “In common with many public services, staffing levels in out of hours primary care vary throughout the time our service operates.
“This is because certain times are busier than others – especially the weekends, when in-hours primary care is less available.
“It is well known that there is a shortage of GPs. This impacts on many GP surgeries and out-of-hours services. IC24 values the contribution of our GPs.
“But, in common with other out of hours providers, we benefit from having access to a team of healthcare professionals including nurses, urgent care practitioners and paramedics.”
‘This is completely unacceptable’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, has called for more investment in out of hours services. She released this statement to reporters last week:
“Patients can’t determine when they will fall ill and they should be able to access high quality GP care when they need to, either through our routine service or GP out of hours services.”
“It is essential that any out-of-hours care services are staffed appropriately. If patients are unable to access GP care out of hours due to staffing shortages, and GPs working out of hours are being put in a position where they are having to make decisions about which seriously ill patient needs their help most, it is completely unacceptable.”