Patients in North Staffordshire requiring urgent medical attention outside GP surgery hours can now expect the doctor to come calling in a Toyota RAV4. Two of these four-wheel drive vehicles have joined North Staffordshire Urgent Care Ltd (NSUC), an independently run out-of-hours service that has evolved from a former local doctors' co-operative.
All GPs now have the option to transfer out-of-hours responsibility for patient care to a Primary Care Trust, which arranges cover for them. Working in shifts from a control centre in Basford, NSUC drivers take duty doctors out on calls between 6.30pm and 8am and throughout weekends and bank holidays. Instructions and priority assessments can be transmitted to the doctor for printing out in the back of the vehicle.
The diesel Toyota RAV4s are expected to average 30,000 miles a year and to be replaced every two to three years. As much of the area covered is hill country and moorland, four-wheel drive was seen as essential. "We operate from Cheshire almost to the Derbyshire and Notts borders, and the drivers are often required to negotiate farm tracks," said NSUC's Director of Operations Elizabeth Gallagher. "In winter these areas can be fairly exposed. We can't afford to have breakdowns, so reliability and fitness for purpose were important considerations for us."
The Toyotas were purchased outright through local Toyota Business Centre Pinkstones of Stoke-on-Trent, after considering 4x4s from three other manufacturers with dealerships in the area. "We explained that as a not-for-profit healthcare service we were working to a strict budget. The fleet manager dealt with us in a very straightforward way, provided a good discount and we were able to take delivery of our first vehicle within a fortnight. That's brilliant service - the best we've ever had." And Elizabeth says that the RAV4s, complete with tinted windows, have gone down well with the drivers. "We consulted them before deciding on the brand, and found that interior space was an important factor."
As the doctors' co-operative, the organisation had previously run 4x4s from another manufacturer, and some of the drivers had found these too small. With the new cars they had wanted not only to have sufficient legroom and loadspace for whatever equipment might be required, but real off-road ability. And had the Toyota RAV4s lived up to the drivers' expectations so far? "They love them."Published 30 November 2005