HC Deb 14 September 2004 vol 424 cc1120-1
10. Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con)

What recent representations he has received about out-of-hours cover for general practitioners; and if he will make a statement. [188510]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

I have received representations from right hon. and hon. Members, as well as from a number of different organisations. As a result of changes agreed by GPs and by the House last year, primary care trusts now have responsibility for arranging the provision of out-of-hours services, which must comply with national quality requirements, ensuring that patients continue to have access to GP home-visiting services.

Mr. Cameron

I thank the Minister for that reply, but is he aware that, in west Oxfordshire, out-of-hours cover will no longer be provided by a doctor, but by a paramedic? Those requiring to see a doctor may have to travel to Abingdon, which can take up to an hour. If the point of all the extra money going into the NHS was to ensure a better service, can he explain why many of my constituents seem to be facing a worse service? Does he agree that the policy will have failed if all we get are longer queues at accident and emergency departments such as at the John Radcliffe? Will he ensure that the review that the Secretary of State announced earlier looks specifically at the situation in west Oxfordshire?

Mr. Hutton

I will certainly look at the situation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. The advice that I have received is that the primary care trust is now providing the service itself, that local GPs are available as part of a multi-professional work force and that GP home visits are being made when that is necessary.

I will obviously take into account the hon. Gentleman's concerns. They are widespread and we have to respond to them. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it very clear today how we will do that. It is part of a process of change and not a completely new invention. In 1990, the previous Conservative Government gave GPs the right to opt out of providing out-of-hours services themselves and 95 per cent. of them did that. This is therefore the completion of that process, but it is very important, as we make this final change, that the patients and public are properly reassured about the level and quality of service that will be available to them. That will be enshrined in new national legally enforceable standards and requirements, guaranteeing the access of the hon. Gentleman's constituents to the sort of service that he has just been talking about.

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind)

Can the Minister give the House any estimate of the difference in costs between the new methods of out-of-hours cover and the old methods?

Mr. Hutton

Sadly, the information that we used to collect on the cost of out-of-hours-services was not the most robust information that we had. The latest figures that I saw showed that the cost incurred by providing out-of-hours services was about £120 million. This year, we are providing £316 million to provide effective and comprehensive out-of-hours services. It is obviously crucial from our point of view as Ministers and for our accountability to the House that we can satisfy right hon. and hon. Members that that money is being spent to provide a sensible and comprehensive service. We will discharge that responsibility, because all of us understand the importance for our families and friends of people being able to access GP services out of hours. That will continue.

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