January is a busy time for the helpline team, particularly with questions on GP practices and getting appointments generally. It is the time of year when many of us suffer from health issues, and we want to get treated as soon as possible.
However, it appears to be becoming increasingly difficult to get appointments and we are noticing how many frustrated patients we hear from.
The root cause of this is the well documented combination of rising levels of patient need, as the population ages, and a shortage of GPs. Practices are using numerous methods to try to manage the levels of demand they are experiencing. In some, receptionists are being asked to triage patients if possible, for instance to a pharmacist or practice nurse in the first instance. In many, patients calling their practice in the morning when it opens are treated on a ‘first call, first appointment’ basis and often there are not enough free appointments to fulfil demand. In some cases, online booking systems have recently been introduced, which can make it seem as though it is the online system that is the problem – which is sometimes true, but sometimes just masks underlying shortages of GP time.
Our helpline team are very experienced in handling these calls and of course respond to each patient experience on an individual basis.
This week we received a call from Tony* wanting to make a complaint about being asked to use such a system.
Tony has heart trouble and had been advised by his GP to book an appointment to see a specialist for an EEG (electroencephalogram). Unfortunately, when he went to make the appointment, the booking system informed him that he faced a waiting time of two months. Very concerned, he contacted his local hospital only to be told that they did in fact have availability in the next few days. This left Tony relieved of course, but also furious that his GP had suggested such an inefficient service for his referral.
We advised Tony to contact the practice manager to raise his concerns before making an official complaint. In the event of not receiving a satisfactory response, we informed him of the complaints process and directed him to the advice leaflet on our website which you can download here.
Finally, we told Tony about the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and how he could contact them if necessary.
*Name changed for privacy