A federation of social enterprise unscheduled primary care providers in England has warned against funding cuts after seeing a dramatic rise in out-of-hours demand over the Christmas period.
Urgent Health UK said its members reported increases between 20 to 50% in out-of-hours demand over Christmas and New Year, forcing many providers to incur extra costs.
Dr John Horrocks, Urgent Health UK chief executive, said: “These providers are stuck between a rock and a hard place, they have to spend more money on staff but it’s money they don’t have.”
Urgent Health believes that the introduction of the new NHS 111 non-emergency number will put more pressure on out-of-hours providers. It has urged commissioners not to “seek unrealistic cuts” in providers’ funding.
Dr Horrocks said the introduction of NHS 111 would see “an awful lot of out-of-hours providers knocking on commissioners’ doors, asking for more funding.”
Chair of Urgent Health UK, Dr Mark Reynolds, said: “Workload is rising, but many services have seen a significant reduction in funding over recent years.
“More patients are turning to us as surgeries also become busier, and some cannot see all the patients who contact them during the day about urgent problems.
“This, combined with changes to the way ambulance services and NHS Direct manage patients has led to the rise in the number of patients we see. During our hours of operation we deal with more patients than A&E departments, NHS Direct, or the ambulance services.”
He added that the heavy workload had put pressure on staff and “it’s not good for clinicians to be overworked.”