A pioneering scheme which changed the face of out-of-hours GP cover for local people has celebrated its 20th anniversary this month.
When plans for Frimley Primary Care Services were first drawn up on a founding member’s kitchen table, doctors’ family members used to help run the service by manning phones.
Two decades later the service is based at Frimley Park Hospital, providing cover for people across the hospital’s catchment area and north Hampshire, and it has handled around 600,000 calls.
Julia Pallant, a current member and one of the founding GPs, said “I can hardly believe it is twenty years since an Out-of-Hours service started in this area. The time when GP’s spouses had to answer the phone and we were out visiting on our own in the dead of night, with the attendant safety issues for patients and doctors, is fortunately a distant memory.
“What has not changed is the ethos. Frimley Primary Care still provides a safe, efficient and caring service to give out-of-hours primary care to the patients in the area and I am proud to still be working for such a quality service twenty years on.”
Dr Ian Stuart, sketched out the original plans with colleague Dr Josie Hicks on his kitchen table. Those early designs led to a service known as GPcall – a co-operative with 53 members, covering 17 local practices and based at Alexandra Surgery in Aldershot (now Princes Gardens Surgery).
The era was marked by problems with GP recruitment and retention, leading the Government of the day to provide funding to encourage and enable the formation of GP co-operatives. Before this individual GP surgeries had their own rotas to cover their patients’ needs outside normal surgery hours.
Dr Stuart, who has served as the service’s Medical Director and is still a member today, said: “I would like to thank the many local doctors, nurses, drivers, reception staff and managers for their hard work, and I feel very proud to be associated with such a fine example of not-for-profit public service.
“We have been very lucky to have a superb manager, in Sue Paterson, who has steered us safely through a continuously-changing NHS. Frimley Primary Care Services has always put the quality of its clinical work foremost and enjoys an excellent reputation in the local health community.”
Other founding members who still work for the service include Dr Claire Brooks and Dr Steve Scott Perry.
The service is housed in Outpatient Department 1 at Frimley Park Hospital, providing cover from 6.30pm to 8am from Monday to Friday and 24-hour cover at weekends and on Bank Holidays. Patients can access the service through the 111 Urgent Helpline.
In 2015, the service handled 40,627 cases. Of these, 46% were dealt with by self-care advice over the phone, 45% of patients were given appointments at the primary care centre and 9% of patients were visited at home. Among the most common reasons for contacting the service were cystitis, abdominal pain and chest infections.