The BBC has reported that GP out-of-hours services provided by commercial companies perform slightly worse than NHS or not-for-profit equivalents. 

The research by Exeter Medical School used data from the official GP patient survey in England to score the three types of providers - commercial, NHS and not-for-profit - out of 100. They were assessed on speed, confidence and overall experience. The scores from patients seen by commercial providers were lower than those seen by the two alternatives. 

Professor John Campbell, who led the research which involved more than 80,000 patients, described the results as “statistically significant” and said: “The overall trend is that patients report less positive experiences with commercial, and we now need to understand why”. But he also said the very best individual scores were for providers in the commercial sector. 

This is the second study in a week that has uncovered concerns about the quality of private companies working on behalf of the NHS. Last week a study from Imperial College London found that private providers of in-hours GP services performed worse than traditional GP practices. 

Many observers blame changes to the 2004 GP contract which allowed family doctors to pass on responsibility for providing out-of-hours services to the local health authority for a decline in evening and weekend services, although many services are still GP-led. 

The Conservatives have pledged that GP surgeries should offer appointments from 8am till 9pm seven days a week but doctors’ leaders say GPs are already struggling to meet current demand and that the plans will not be achievable without a huge investment in the workforce. 

Rebecca Morgan, an associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, said: “It is important to ensure that patients receive the best possible care, regardless of who provides it. There is often an assumption that private medical care is better and it is worrying that, despite it being better funded and more accessible, the quality of care may not be as good as patients would expect. While there may be some justification for poor service in the NHS, it is hard to justify such failings in the private sector.”