Out-of-hours GP service rated inadequate after CQC inspection
The out-of-hours GP service in Somerset has been placed into special measures, following an inspection.
The Care Quality Commission (CQC) said the "inadequate" service run by private company Vocare was unsafe, ineffective and poorly led.
The investigation was sparked after four patients died shortly after they rang the NHS 111 service.
Vocare, which also runs the 111 service, said it was "very disappointed" by the findings.
Leadership of the county's 111 service has been rated as inadequate, with the service overall rated as "requiring improvement".
The watchdog told Vocare, the company behind Somerset Doctors Urgent Care, that "systems, processes and practices to keep people safe had significant gaps and were a cause of concern".
It added the service had to ensure that "serious incidents, deaths or safeguarding referrals" were properly referred to the CQC.
This is understood to refer to the deaths of four people earlier this year who were suffering from abnormal aortic aneurysms - catastrophic conditions caused when a major blood vessel bursts.
The four rang the 111 control centre in Taunton but were not identified as being at risk, and died within 24 hours.
Mary Cridge from the CQC said there needed to be rapid improvement in the speed at which patients were seen and treated.
"Vocare needs to get its house in order," she said. "We can't have inadequate services running like this."
The out-of-hours service will be inspected again in six months. If any areas of the service remain rated as inadequate, Vocare face the threat of losing the service.
Referring to reports that Vocare may be in a position to take over more health care services in the region, Ms Cridge added: "Contract negotiations are for commissioners to settle. I would not expect to see the expansion of an inadequate service."
Dr Michael Harrison, medical director at Vocare, said the report was "very disappointing".
He added: "To be fair the main issues seem to be about how we monitor our services and staff rather than patient care.
"In both reports patient care was quoted as good and they felt we were a caring organisation."
Somerset's Clinical Commissioning Group said it was "disappointed" with the report and would continue to monitor Vocare's performance.