Researchers at the Peninsula Medical School in the South West of England have completed research suggesting that patients feel that doctors providing out of hours services in primary care are reluctant to do home visits.
Researchers held group discussions and carried out telephone interviews with 27 patients who had recently used one of three services providing general practice cover in the evenings and weekends in England.
Under the GP contract, which came into effect in 2004, family doctors can opt out of providing care out of hours.
Instead, patients are redirected to dedicated services, which may offer telephone advice, home visits, or an appointment at a treatment centre.
Two of the services covered up to 300,000 people in three primary care trusts, while one covered almost one million people from eight primary care trusts.
Once patients had got through and had actually spoken to a healthcare professional, they were generally happy with the quality of service they received.
But many said they were uncertain as to the appropriateness of their call or even how the service worked.
Half said they felt guilty about calling amid fears that they might be wasting the doctors time or abusing the system.
They assumed that these services had too few staff covering too wide an area and were often misused by people with minor complaints
Patients were most worried by the slow speed with which they felt cases were handled and the time it took before they were called back or a home visit was made.
Some complained that they didnt know whether to carry on waiting or seek emergency care, particularly if they were in pain or distress.
Patients thought that the non-medically qualified call handlers did not always understand the urgency of a situation, and suggested that someone with medical knowledge should be the first point of contact
Patients also felt that doctors w
|Contact: Andrew Gould|
The Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry