Ninety five per cent of contacts between patients and GPs take place during normal surgery hours, but out of hours emergency cover is an important part of NHS care. The Patient's Charter confirms the 24 hour nature of the GP service (the right 'to receive emergency care at any time').
In 1994, the Government announced changes to the GP contract covering out of hours cover. This agreement allows local GPs to set up Primary Care Centres (PCCs) for out of hours treatment.
Patients are able to speak directly to a doctor out of hours but they may then:
- be given telephone advice.
- be asked to visit the GP the next day.
- be asked to go to the Primary Care Centre.
In many areas GPs are now joining together to form co-operatives for out of hours cover.
When you telephone for medical help, find out who you are talking to. The person who answers may be a GP, a nurse or a trained receptionist. Be prepared to describe how you feel or how the person seems and why you are worried. The GP or nurse will probably be able to tell how serious the problem is and in many cases can give advice or reassurance over the phone. You may be asked to go to a special primary care centre or clinic which stays open all night. Alternatively, the GP may visit you at home. In many situations, the GP you see out of hours will not be your own doctor but probably one you do not know. He or she will send notes of the visit to your own doctor to be included in your medical records.
More details are included in a leaflet produced by the Royal College of General Practitioners, Tel: 0171 581 3232.