Standards rap for doctors

DOCTORS in Sheffield are failing to meet official standards on out-of-hours care, it has been revealed.

Information released under the Freedom of Information Act show Sheffield Primary Care Trust is not fully meeting requirements in carrying out telephone clinical assessments, which are used to identify life-threatening conditions.They are also not fully meeting standards in starting face-to-face consultations on time.

The information was obtained by the Liberal Democrats.

Nationally, the survey revealed a third of PCTs are failing to meet the official standard for finding out what is wrong with a patient over the telephone.

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “These very disturbing statistics show that many Primary Care Trusts are failing to meet standards of care which the Government itself says is crucial.

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    “Out-of-hours care looks at potentially life and death situations. Answering calls quickly and providing a swift and accurate phone diagnosis can save lives.

    “The danger is that people will choose to go to already crowded A&E units, which have seen a rise in admissions in recent years.”

    The Department of Health has set 13 strict standards for out-of-hours care, five of which demand 100 per cent compliance.

    In four out of these five areas, Sheffield’s PCT admitted that between August 2006 and July 2007 it was only achieving “partial compliance.”

    It was recorded as failing to make the grade in a standard which requires calls to be answered within 60 seconds of an introductory message - although it yesterday stressed it has been complying with this requirement since June.

    The PCT also missed a standard which requires a “definitive clinical assessment” to take place over the telephone within 20 minutes of an “urgent” call and within an hour for other calls.

    It also achieved only partial compliance in a requirement for a face-to-face assessment to take place within 20 minutes of a patient arriving at a medical centre out-of-hours.

    The PCT is now recruiting extra nurses to ensure this target is hit.

    A PCT spokesperson said: “There is scope to improve the assessment process to make better use of resources.

    “We are currently working on refining the prioritisation process to make better use of resources and be more responsive.

    “Performance is reviewed on a monthly basis and we are working very hard to address areas of non-compliance.”