Three North Hampshire MP's - Maria Miller, James Arbuthnot and Sir George Young - visited Hantsdoc, to see at first hand how the Out-of-Hours service was delivered to their constituents.
The MP's met Sue Paterson, the Chief Executive of North Hampshire Urgent Care (the umbrella organisation under which Hantsdoc operates) and its Chairman, John Parker. Also at the meeting were some of the GP's who work for Hantsdoc, in the time when they are not running their own practices. The Chief Executive of Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital (where Hantsdoc is based) was at the meeting, together with Dr Niall Ferguson from Hampshire Primary Care Trust, which funds the service.
"In April 2004, the new GP contract transferred responsibility for the out-of-hours service to the local Primary Care Trust. In North Hampshire, this service continues to be provided on behalf of the PCT by Hantsdoc, which is basically a non-profit making GP co-operative."
"I was delighted to hear how well Hantsdoc is performing; patient satisfaction is high at 96.8% and as a local MP I have had no complaints about the service in this parliament. It is also very cost-effective - costing £7.82 per patient covered per year."
In addition to covering local GP practices, Hantsdoc also has a contract with the Ministry of Defence and two private hospitals. Demand is increasing at 4 1/2 per year. The busiest times are Saturday and Sunday mornings. "They obviously staff up to cope with this peak, with extra doctors on standby at home to give telephone advice or go to the Primary Care centre to see patients."
Hantsdoc handles 35,000 contacts a year. 42% of calls are resolved by a telephone conversation with a doctor, and 13% result in a home visit. 4% are admitted to hospital and 45% of patients are seen at the Primary Care Centre. The service is run by 60 local GP's
"We were told by the Trust which runs Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital that they work very closely with the service, and this prevents unnecessary admissions to Accident and Emergency. As these are very expensive, it means resources can be focussed where they are most needed."
"I was interested to discuss the possibility of the Out-of-Hours Service working more closely with NHS Direct. The costs of NHS Direct are quite high - at somewhere around £25 per call answered; a better use of resources might be to pool NHS Direct, on a local basis, with the Out-of-Hours Service."
After the meeting Sir George met two patients who were waiting to be seen by GP's. "These patients had rung up earlier in the morning, and had spoken to GP's. They were then given appointments at the hospital for an hour later. One had suspected mumps, and the other was the mother of a young child with an ear infection. Both were delighted with the service. The alternative would have been to wait until Monday morning or turn up at Accident and Emergency."
Sir George also spoke to those at the sharp end of the service - those answering the telephones. "They were very professional and very sympathetic. And, with the help of modern technology, details of symptoms and treatments are passed on to the patient's GP by the start of the next working day, so they are fully in the picture."
The MP's were told that, with available resources likely to be constrained in future years, there would be cost pressures on the service.
"This was an enormously worthwhile visit, and I was grateful to Dr Andrew Fernando, one of my constituents, for fixing it up."