Doctors out of hoursGPs who want to run out of hours services in their local areas should be awarded contracts without facing a ‘David versus Goliath’ struggle with large private companies, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

The report says the regulations for awarding contracts should be clarified, and legislative changes made if necessary, to enable practices or groups of practices to take back their out of hours service without having to go through a competitive tender.

GPs were able to opt out of providing out of hours care as part of the 2004 GP contract, but out of hours care, led or run by GPs, still accounts for around 59% of all out of hours services in the UK.

The RCGP report, The Future of GP Out of Hours Care, also raises concerns that, despite efforts by GPs, patients have a low level of awareness about the availability of their local GP out of hours service. The latest GP Patient Survey found that only 45% of patients knew how to access this.    

The College warns, however, that without an increase in the GP workforce, any increase in the provision of out of hours GP services would simply reduce the number of GPs available during normal working hours. GPs and their teams already manage 90% of all NHS patient contacts for just 8.3% of the overall budget.

The College and the National Association for Patient Participation are campaigning for an increase in the proportion of the NHS budget going to general practice from 8.3% to 11% by 2017 - and an increase of 10,000 in the number of GPs across the UK by 2020.