THURROCK residents who need out of hours contact with a GP will find themselves dealing with the Ambulance Service next year.

The East of England Ambulance has won a new three-year contract with the South West Essex Primary Care Trust to provide an out of hours service to patients need to contact a GP when their surgery is closed.

The contract comes into effect at the end of January next year and will meet a range of specific requirements drawn up by the PCT to improve patient care.

Call handlers will deal with patient's queries, and most will be put through to a GP who will personally assess their needs.

They will then decide whether the patient can be provided with advice on the telephone, needs to visit a primary care centre, requires a home visit or needs to visit hospital. Under the previous contract, this assessment was carried out by a call handler at NHS Direct.

Adrian Maasz, the ambulance service's general manager for primary care in Essex, said: "We are obviously delighted at winning this contract. It gives us an opportunity to work closely with the PCT by providing a truly integrated service.

"We are also delighted to be working closely with Take Care Now, an organisation who share our ethos of always putting the patient first."

Owen Richards, PCT Locality Director, who leads on out of hours services, added: "The East of England Ambulance Service previously provided a high quality service to local patients, and are clearly very experience in delivering emergency care, so we are delighted to be working with them to provide even higher standards of service for our local community."