AN out-of-hours service is under immense pressure as doctors are having to deal with more than double the average number of patient calls.

However, Dr Jonathan Leach, medical director for NHS Worcestershire, says he has confidence in the service being offered by the private company responsible.

Harmoni, which has a £5.4 million a year contract with NHS Worcestershire, normally gets 50 calls per hour but an unannounced visit by Dr Leach before Christmas revealed 120 calls (900 a day compared to a predicted 600-700).

The service provides care to people in Worcestershire who cannot see their GPs at weekends and evenings when many surgeries are closed.

Dr Leach said: “It’s fair to say that the whole system is under very considerable pressure at the moment.

“The acute trust is struggling but we’re no different from anyone else.”

During the unannounced visit there were 16 doctors available out of hours across the county.

Of those 16 doctors, 10 were based at various hospitals such as the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch and out of hours centres and six were in cars performing home visits.

Dr Leach said because out of hours was based in the same building as A&E at Worcester Royal Hospital, which has been under considerable pressure, they had offered to put more doctors on to manage the demand.

Dr Leach said: “The relationship with Harmoni is good but, yes, they’re under pressure and we monitor them. We’re doing a huge amount but it is difficult at the moment.”

Talks are currently underway to expand the number of shifts which involve GPs travelling with paramedics to 999 calls to try to reduce pressure on hospitals and the need for admission.