A GP service for people who fall ill outside surgery hours was unmanned for several shifts last year, the County Gazette has learned.

Health chiefs say alternative arrangements were made for patients to be seen and no-one’s health suffered as a result.

There were no doctors at the Primary Care Trust’s out-of-hours centre at Taunton’s Musgrove Park Hospital for 14 shifts in 2012 and fewer than the total recommended number of GPs or nurses on a further 93 occasions.

Rotas are drawn up in advance, and the shortages have been attributed to staff falling ill shortly before their shifts or other unforeseen circumstances, such as adverse weather.

PCT spokesman Paul Courtney said: “No-one’s health was at risk as a result.

“All patients needing a GP would have been seen, either at another out-of-hours treatment centre or at Accident & Emergency at Musgrove.”

Mr Courtney said patients needing a doctor outside surgery times should ring their GP, where they would be re-directed to the ‘urgent care’ service, which could advise attending a treatment centre, though a mobile GP will visit patients, such as single parents or carers, who cannot get to hospital.

He said: “If there was no GP available at Musgrove the patient would be sent to the closest treatment centre, probably Bridgwater Hospital.”

People coming through the door without phoning who wanted a GP, which is not recommended, would be assessed in the nearby A&E at Musgrove.

Mr Courtney said: “From the NHS point of view the important issue is that the patient gets the advice, support or treatment they need for their level of illness.”

The statistics, released following a Freedom of Information request, show there were no GPs when there should have been two on duty (week days, 7pm to 11pm) on seven occasions out of 252 shifts with just one GP on 59 occasions.

There were seven occasions when there were no GPs instead of the allotted one for 365 shifts (every day, 11pm-8am).

Of the 226 shifts when there should have been four GPs and a nurse (weekends and Bank Holidays, 8am-11pm), 34 were understaffed, though there were never fewer than two GPs on duty.