ONE in four people has not heard of out-of-hours GP services according to a new survey and it has been blamed for the overcrowding of Wigan’s A&E department in recent months.
The National Audit Office (NAO) survey of 878 people in England also found one in five was unaware of the new 111 urgent phone service.
The poll was part of a wider review which found the numbers using out-of-hours services had fallen by a third in six years to 5.8 million in 2013-14
However, some 33 per cent of people who replied to a national survey released last week said they though the out of hours service in Wigan was ‘very good’
In May, frontline A&E staff told the Wigan Evening Post that many people were unaware of the GP out of hours number and instead are turning up at A&E. Senior sister Karen Ashcroft said: “People ring to get an appointment with their GP and are told it will be in six or eight hours time so they come to A&E. If it is on an evening the vast majority are completely unaware of the GP out of hours service and therefore come to A&E unnecessarily and it makes our job harder.”
The NAO said the drop could be a result of people being unaware of the service or lacking confidence in it. The report noted the drop in people using out-of-hours had occurred as visits to A&E had risen.
But it also said it could be related to the launch of the 111 service last year, which has started handling some of the out-of-hours calls.
NAO head Amyas Morse said: “NHS England has much to do to help secure improvements throughout the system and to increase its oversight.
“It should also work to raise public awareness of how and when patients should contact out-of-hours GP services and needs to be prepared to take the lead in integrating these services effectively with other parts of the urgent care system.”
In terms of cost, it estimates the amount spent on the service stood at £400m last year – £75m less once inflation is taken into account than eight years ago.
However, it said as 111 had taken on some of the workload it was hard to make cost comparisons.