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Safeguarding Your Emergency GP Service

Over the past few years General Practice doctors have experienced a large increase in workload, particularly in out of hours home visits.

This additional work has become a great concern and strain and as a result the government agreed to change the rules of night visits and home visits. The new rules make it clear that home visiting at any time is only for patients who are not fit enough to visit the surgery and night time and out of hours consultations are for medical emergencies only. 

Out of hours, it is for the doctor, deputy or triage nurse to decide, based on what you tell them about your condition, if and when you need to be seen by a doctor and where you will be seen. Depending on what your doctor, deputy or nurse may decide from your description of your medical symptoms, you may be given medical advice by telephone or:

  • asked to come immediately to the surgery or emergency primary care centre
  • asked to attend the next regular surgery
  • be visited in your own home or referred directly to hospital 

If the system is not to be overloaded, it is important for patients to remember that a doctor can see several patients at a surgery or clinic in the time that it takes to make one home visit.

To keep the emergency out of hours system available your GP must put medical priorities first and they may no longer be able to take into account patients' social circumstances, such as transport or child minding problems, as reasons for home visits. Such requests reduce their availability for emergencies. When deciding whether or not you need to consult your out of hours service please consider the following:

Can it wait until morning?

If you become unwell while your doctor's surgery is closed, ask yourself if you can safely wait until the surgery re-opens to receive medical attention. If you feel it may not be safe to wait, or you simply don't know, telephone your doctor's emergency phone number and a doctor or other suitably trained person will discuss with you when and where you should receive your medical care.

Is a home visit by a doctor really needed?

Many doctors report that they are being asked to visit people at home who are well enough to travel to the surgery or an out of hours emergency primary care centre to be seen. You may not be well enough to walk or catch a bus to see your doctor, but most people are well enough to travel by car.

Where possible you could ask your friends, neighbours or relatives for a lift, or take a taxi if you can find no other way of getting to your doctor's surgery or primary care centre.

Is it the family doctor I need?

For some very serious conditions such as severe bleeding, chest pain suggesting a heart attack, or severe shortness of breath, it may be more sensible to dial 999 or ask for an ambulance. The crew on board the ambulance provide emergency care as well as rapid transport to hospital.

This is often the quickest lifesaving treatment. Also, in cases of injury, where a broken bone is suspected or stitches may be needed, going straight to the hospital often makes more sense than calling your family doctor, who may not have the facilities to deal with this kind of problem.

Minor ailments and simple remedies

Many common illnesses such as coughs, colds, sore throats, ear-ache and upset stomachs may be eased by a simple home remedy or medicine such as a painkiller or other medicine easily obtained from your chemist, who will be happy to advise you.

Benefits of visiting your GP practice during opening hours
  • Doctors who are not tied up with making unnecessary home visits are available for medical emergencies more quickly.
  • There are better facilities at a doctor's surgery or an out of hours emergency primary care centre for examinations and diagnostic tests.
  • Other staff may be available to help with advice and treatment.
  • The doctor may have better access to your medical records, which will help with the management of your treatment.
  • It is a better use of doctor's time. For every home visit a doctor can see three or four patients at a surgery or emergency primary care centre.
  • You will get a better service from a doctor who is less tired and less stressed.

Out of Hours Service include:-

  • Commercial deputising services with patient centres
  • GP co-operatives with patient centres
  • GP rota cover
  • Cover by your own practice

Designed by the PR Department, Bro Taf Health Authority. 4198SCR

Disclaimer: The information and advice is given in good faith and all reasonable efforts have been taken to ensure accuracy. Cardiff University or the individual advisers shall not be liable to any person in contract, tort, statute or otherwise for any loss, distress or damage of any kind (excluding negligence or personal injury caused by Cardiff University's negligence) which is proved to have been caused as a result of any inaccuracy of the contents of the information or mis-advice contained in this web site (unless made fraudulently).