Prior to April 2004 General Practitioners' (GP) contracts with the NHS required the GP to ensure their patients had 24 hours a day access to appropriate medical care. This means that outside normal surgery hours GPs had to provide emergency medical care for their patients. GPs could do this either personally or through a properly qualified deputy. Many doctors joined GP co-operatives (where doctors group together in a rota) to provide their out-of-hours services.

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