Changes across the board to North Devon’s out-of-hours telephone and GP service will be better for patients it is claimed

The Devon Doctors out-of-hours GP service is closing its treatment centre at Bideford Hospital from October 1.

The move is part of the county's new integrated urgent care service (IUCS), which will leave Barnstaple as the only treatment centre.

The changes will also see Devon Doctors take over the NHS 111 advice line, subcontracting it to Vocare.

But the co-operative of local GPs says while Bideford is closing, there will be 'no change in the level of overnight cover' and 'no question' of anyone going without, with most people within 30 minutes of a treatment centre.

Devon Doctors says Bideford residents will continue to access out-of-hours care via NHS 111 and anyone needing urgent medical attention will be offered an appointment at Barnstaple or, if they are unable to travel, a home visit will be arranged.

The Bideford treatment centre currently provides cover from 6-11pm and at weekends, with overnight cover provided in Barnstaple.

It works by calling 111 and being assessed. If need be the patient will receive telephone advice from a doctor or be offered a treatment centre appointment or home visit. People cannot simply turn up at treatment centres.

Bideford staff were notified of the changes some months ago and there have been no compulsory redundancies, but some may have been offered different working contracts.

There are fears the changes will leave the service stretched across the whole of North Devon, but a Devon Doctors spokesman told the Gazette they 'genuinely believed' the revised service would be better.

"There will now be a cadre of doctors dedicated purely to visiting people, while those in the treatment centre will remain there," they said.

"Previously there would usually be one doctor in the treatment centre, doing the telephone, visits and consultations."

Devon Doctors says the service will now offer faster access to telephone advice from a doctor, booked appointments at treatment centres so shorter waiting times, GPs with more time for home visits and automatic appointments for those under five, over 85 or at end of life care.

Devon Doctors' chief executive Dr Justin Geddes said they appreciated people may be concerned about the changes: "However, Devon Doctors has delivered high quality out-of-hours care across the county since 1996 and we would not have taken on the new IUCS if we did not believe it offered a great opportunity to build on what we have achieved over the last two decades and provide an even better service to Devon residents and all those who visit the county."