A FAILURE to recruit enough doctors has seen a health trust's out-of-hours service criticised by inspectors.

Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the service, has been told it needs to make improvements by the independent health regulator.

Operating from six facilities around the county –including Bicester Community Hospital – the service is where thousands of patients go for treatment when their GP is closed.

But during an announced inspection in November last year, the first for the service, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) discovered in the six months leading up to its visit, the service only achieved 82 per cent of face-to-face consultations within two hours of assessment for urgent patients. The national target is 95 per cent.

While the trust was told it did provide a good quality of care to patients, a shortage of doctors meant targets were missed while full checks were not in place to ensure every GP could work safely with children with proof of disclose and barring service (DBS) checks not always available - although there was no suggestion any youngsters were at risk.

Executive director of Healthwatch Oxfordshire Rosalind Pearce said: “It is potentially putting patients and children at risk and that is not good enough.

“It concerns us that one of our main hospital trusts gets a requires improvement rating."

Ms Pearce added: “I think the point raised around DBS checks for self-employed GPs is of great concern.

“There is no way anybody should be working, if they are directly employed or self-employed, if they cannot demonstrate that they completed their DBS check.”

“With regards to the recruitment of medical staff, it is a county-wide and national issue.

“And although the report does inform us that they are putting things in place to boost recruitment, they are not achieving the national standards they had been two years ago.”

The report praises the trust for meeting performance standards ‘consistently’ in 2015 but said it could not be maintained ‘due to shortages of GPs and practitioners.’

Chief inspector Professor Steve Field wrote in the report: “The provider had been experiencing clinical staff shortages throughout 2016.

“This had resulted in the provider not attaining some of the quality requirements.

“Despite significant effort to recruit additional staff there had been difficulties sourcing appropriate staff in a timely manner.

“The provider had alerted their commissioners to the difficulties and had maintained an open and honest dialogue with the commissioners whilst recruitment was under way.”

In response to last year's inspection, the trust says it has improved its performance and now reaches 91 per cent of the national target in May this year.

Figures from the trust show 4,062 of the target 4,813 shifts have been filled since January 2016, which it says is an improvement but has not given previous levels.

Although there is a pool of 143 GPs with the out-of-hours service, this does not cover the 40 are needed to run the daily service as not everyone is always available.

The out-of-hours service covers a population of 660,000 and last year it received around 110,000 calls from patients who suffer from a range of problems that cannot wait until their GP surgery next opens but are not an emergency.

Patients dial the NHS’ 111, which is operated by South Central Ambulance Service, where an initial assessment is undertaken.

Following the assessment the NHS team can book patients in directly into the out-of-hours service to visit one of the six bases in the county, some of which are open from 6.30pm until 8am the following day.

The centres the service operates from are East Oxford Health Centre, in Manzil Way, Witney Community Hospital, Abingdon Community Hospital, Bicester Community Hospital, the Horton in Banbury and Townlands Memorial Hospital in Hendon.

Since the inspection the trust has confirmed it has acted upon all the areas which were identified for improvement.

Communications and engagement manager for the trust Victoria Taylor said: “Since all practising GPs already have DBS checks we had not prioritised keeping a record of these, but have now amended our approach.

“Also it was identified that our drivers and receptionists should undertake resuscitation and chaperone training, which we are now doing.

“Recruitment to the service remains a challenge due to many local GPs reaching retirement age, but we are continuing with our recruitment efforts.

“We are proud that the service was rated ‘good’ for both patient care and responsiveness, with 92 per cent of patients likely or very likely to recommend the service to others.”

In the report 96 per cent of patients had confidence in the doctor or nurse that they saw, with 96 per cent of patients saying they were treated with dignity and respect and praised staff for treating them compassionately.

For the full report visit: cqc.org.uk