Of the almost 1,000 patients who used the Out of Hours Service last weekend, less than a quarter were urgent cases, according to the Southern Health Trust.
Last weekend a total of 979 calls were made to the Out of Hours Service on both Saturday and Sunday.
Of those the vast majority were ‘routine’ calls - a whopping 739 and just 240 regarded as ‘urgent.
On Saturday the service took 485 calls of which 373 were ‘routine’ and 112 ‘urgent’. On Sunday there were 494 calls of which 366 were ‘routine’ and 128 ‘urgent’.
The Trust has stated on numerous occasions that the Out of Hours service is for patients who have need ‘urgent’ attention that cannot wait until their GP surgery opens.
“Urgent calls will always be prioritised,” said a spokesperson. The Trust pointed out that last year the service had 100,763 contacts, 50,122 of these were dealt with by telephone advice, 44,015 required an appointment at an Out of Hours base and 6,626 needed a home visit.
Senior managers from the Trust met with Mr Simpson last month to discuss ongoing pressures on the service.
A Trust spokesperson said: “The GP out of hours aims to treat everyone as quickly and safely as possible however, we do often receive calls about non urgent conditions and some people drop in at a base without an appointment. For example, last weekend, on Saturday out of a total of 485 calls, 373 were routine and 112 urgent and out of 494 calls received on Sunday, 366 were routine and 128 urgent. Priority will always be given to urgent calls,
“During times when the service is particularly busy, patients with less urgent conditions may have to wait longer. We always advise patients to phone us back during this time if their condition deteriorates, go to the Emergency Department or phone 999.
“There are currently 142 GPs covering the out of hours rota. In addition to GPs, we currently have Triage Nurses who clinically assess patients over the phone and have two Advanced Nurse Practitioners who take consultations with patients who need a base appointment. The Trust is currently recruiting more nurses to work in the service. A more recent development is a pilot of Pharmacy Triage at weekends provided by pharmacists who can advise people on medications problems.
“In addition, the Health and Social Care Board has commissioned a GP Local Enhanced Service on a pilot basis from October 2014-March 2015 to provide GP input to an additional weekday evening rota in the Craigavon Out of Hour base. This Enhanced Service has been aimed at encouraging GPs to work in the Out of Hours setting. The Trust will work with the Board to review the outcomes and impact of this pilot with a view to informing any Board decision over its future provision. At times of peak demand, there can be considerable pressure on the GP out of hours service so we remind people to think about the best service to meet their needs and always phone us first on Tel: 028 3839 9201. We are always looking for ways to improve how the GP out of hours operates and continue to work with GPs, the Local Commissioning Group and the Health and Social Care Board to develop a sustainable, long term model for providing urgent out of hours care.”