Brown: Out-of-hours care ‘must do better’

Gordon Brown has acknowledged out-of-hours health care has to improve, after a report implicated failings in out-of-hours care for a woman’s death.

Penny Campbell died in March 2005 after falling ill over the Easter bank holiday. The 41-year-old journalist contracted septicaemia after routine surgery and contacted the Camidoc out-of-hours service in north London.

She was seen by eight different doctors, all of whom failed to diagnose the septicaemia. Critically, Camidoc did not pass on her information, so each call was treated as a separate episode.

Mr Brown said: “The health service has got to be there for people when they need it and we need to do better in the future.”

An official inquiry has now identified failings with Camidoc but warned precursors are in place to repeat the errors elsewhere.

The report criticised Camidoc’s failure to pass on information and raised concerns there were no procedures in place to ensure all doctors could see a patients’ notes.

But, it also said Camidoc, which is a co-operative run by doctors, was not prepared to become a major provider of out-of-hours care when the system changed in 2004.

From this point, GPs could opt-out of out-of-hours care, leaving private firms and doctors’ co-ops to treat patients at weekends and bank holidays.

The report into Ms Campbell’s death said these cover arrangements appeared to be a “holding bay” until full GP cover resumed. It also pointed to “confusion” over the exact role of out-of-hours care, namely whether it was suitable for patients needing urgent treatment.

Mr Brown said his new health secretary would look at out-of-hours care, but seemed to imply this would focus on providing convenient services rather than the specific issues raised by the report.

He said: “What I’ve been talking about is how we can extend the range of facilities for health care at weekends and out of hours.

“We need more access to doctors, we need drop-in centres, we need local health care centres to be more effective, we need NHS Direct to be working.”

The Liberal Democrats said Ms Campbell’s death was a “pretty stark reminder” of the government’s failure to reform out-of-hours care.

Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “Sadly this isn’t an isolated failing. Yet again, the government has grossly mishandled an NHS contract, leaving patients confused about where care is being provided and putting further pressure on A&E services, swamped by patients who don’t know where else to turn.

“The government and other involved bodies should act on the inquiry’s recommendations now to ensure that this tragedy is never repeated. There must be an urgent rethink of how best to provide high quality out-of-hours care.”