THE collapse of North Yorkshire's out-of-hours GP service was the "biggest blunder" health chiefs have made in the last 25 years.

That's according to Selby GP Pat McGrann, who said the service could have been saved if some primary care trusts had paid the £491,000 it was owed.

Dr McGrann said three PCTs were behind the North Yorkshire Emergency Doctors (NYED) insolvency in December.

"It did not need to happen," he said at a meeting of a North Yorkshire County Council health committee.

"There were ways round it, I'm absolutely sure."

But Jeremy Clough, chief executive of Selby and York PCT disagreed. "I do not believe that non-payment by PCTs was the reason NYED went into administration," he said.

"It was about stability of services."

Individual PCTs now provide the evening and weekend service in York and North Yorkshire. Tees East and North Yorkshire Ambulance provide the call handling service.

Public faith in the service has been shaken by public disagreements between PCTs and GPs about why NYED went into administration.

During the meeting, committee chairman John Blackie heard doctors say how they were committed to providing out-of-hours cover.

But some said they had recently been expected to deliver the service in cars which did not have satellite navigation systems, and had sometimes been left without drivers. One car had no tax disc.

Bosses at Craven, Harrogate and Rural District PCT were accused of "playing god" with people's lives, after cuts were made to out-of-hours services in Ripon. Hambleton and Richmondshire PCT have also experienced problems, and voiced concerns over lack of cover for patients in the Dales.

John Givans, of North Yorkshire Local Medical Committee, said GPs were concerned about the quality and availability of out-of-hours care for their patients under the new arrangements.

He said several GPs had been approached in their homes, gardens and by their private telephone number out of hours by patients who had waited so long for a response to a request.

He said after years of NYED providing a first-class service with no problems whatsoever, he had found working with the PCTs difficult.

The committee will meet again on April 19 to discuss a draft resolution from yesterday's meeting.

Updated: 09:59 Thursday, March 24, 2005