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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 March, 2005, 08:37 GMT
Patients 'failed' by GP service
Alan Beith
Mr Beith wants the review findings implemented quickly
Patients in Northumberland have been failed by an out-of-hours system lacking skilled GPs, a review says.

Failings in communication and of a telephone triage system are also highlighted in the report into out-of-hours cover in the county.

The review came after concerns at the death of Matilda Balmbra, 77, amid claims she was refused treatment at Alnwick Infirmary on Boxing Day.

Health officials have pledged to implement the review's recommendations.

The review was carried out by NHS trusts in Northumberland, the North East Ambulance Service and Northern Doctors Urgent Care, which provides out-of-ours GP cover.

Out-of-hours cover in the county has come in for strong criticism from patients and from Berwick MP Alan Beith, who raised the issue in the House of Commons.

This report provides the basis for putting the service back on track
Berwick MP, Alan Beith

Critics of the system claimed too much pressure was being placed on major hospitals in Wansbeck and Berwick and that patients were not given sufficient access to local GPs.

Liberal Democrat MP Mr Beith has broadly welcomed the review's findings, saying it identifies "key weaknesses" in the out-of-hours service.

The review calls for more specialist GPs to work in community hospitals in rural areas, alongside nurse practitioners and ambulance crews.

It also says a telephone triage system, under which a patient's need to see a doctor is assessed, should be improved.

Special funding

The possibility of health service staff in North Northumberland working with doctors across the border in Scotland is also to be considered.

Dr Derek Thompson, medical director for Northumbria Healthcare NHS Trust said: "Our patients can be confident that we will provide the best possible out-of-hours service for them."

Mr Beith said: "This report provides the basis for putting the service back on track.

"Rural Northumberland used to have very good out-of-hours services provided by local GPs. That standard of service must be restored, even if it has to be by a different system."


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