Out-of-hours – out of favour?

Our latest research published today in the BMJ, led by our colleagues at the University of Exeter, takes a look at patient experience of out-of-hours GP services. This is part of a large body of work of ours using data from the GP Patient Survey. So what have we found? Well the headline result that is making the headlines (e.g. the Telegraph, the Independent, and the BBC), is that reported patient experience is on average worse when the out-of-hours services are run by a commercial provider as opposed to those run by the NHS or a not-for-profit provider. And from this point we can unleash the bashing of the privatisation of the NHS.

But is this the whole story? Well no. This is an average. There are still plenty of positive reports of experience of commercial providers – just fewer of them than in NHS providers. There is also variation between providers. Figure 1 is my favourite from this paper (OK, so there is only one figure, but it is a good one). This shows that there is substantial overlap between the performance of providers in the three categories. Some commercial providers score better than average NHS providers and equally some NHS providers score worse than average commercial providers.

The message from this being: don’t tar everyone with the same brush. Some commercial providers are doing a reasonable job, and some NHS providers might need to pull their socks up.

Warren FC, Abel G, Lyratzopoulos G, Elliott MN, Richards S, Barry HE, Roland M, Campbell JL. Characteristics of service users and provider organisations associated with experience of out of hours general practitioner care in England: population based cross sectional postal questionnaire survey. BMJ 2015; 350 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2040

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