NHS: GP appointment warning
Image: Somerset Live
Kingswood representative April Begley told health bosses they must do something about the problem, which she and other South Gloucestershire councillors first raised two months ago.
At that time, Cllr Begley said some residents had reported being number 100 in the queue to get through to their GP surgery by phone.
Now she has repeated her concerns, saying she was unable to get through to her general practice by telephone despite being invited by letter to phone to make an appointment.
The NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire has admitted that “some” general practices are having problems with telephone access and that it is working to identify those practices and help them.
It comes amid a surge in patient demand for GP appointments following the lifting of coronavirus restrictions as some surgeries struggle with ongoing staff shortages linked to the pandemic.
And GP surgeries face the twin burden of an expanded flu vaccination programme and a Covid vaccine booster programme ahead of winter, just as they attempt to catch-up on a backlog of routine blood tests caused by a blood tube shortage last month.
Cllr Begley told CCG representatives at a meeting of South Gloucestershire Council’s health scrutiny commission on September 22 that her GP surgery keeps writing her letters asking her to make an appointment.
“But I cannot get through on the telephone,” she said. “And I have waited a very long time just to see how long I have to wait, and have still not got through, so have gone off doing something else.”
Cllr Begley said she managed to book an appointment eventually, but only by travelling to the surgery and knocking on the door.
“To be invited, and then to be disappointed because you can’t get through, it’s just an irritation really, but I do think it’s something that you need to pay attention to, because people just will give up.
“I could easily just give up and say, ‘right, I’m not going to have the vaccination; right, I’m not going to have my blood tested; right, I’m not going to do this, whatever it is they’re asking me to do.”
Jenny Bowker, who is the CCG’s head of primary care development, said phone lines at “a number of practices” had been “incredibly pressured” due to significant numbers of reception staff having to self isolate.
She said the CCG had started to track telephony data to understand the “pattern” and could see that the number of calls to practices was “significantly” higher compared with last year and the year before.
Ms Bowker said the CCG was working with all its practices to identify those in need of extra help and to give them the right support.
Part of that work is to understand surgeries’ “modes of access” in an attempt to establish more consistency across the area, she said.
“We need to get that balance right between [patients] being about to walk in, being able to access over the phone and sort-of free up phone lines and use online where possible,” Ms Bowker said.
“That’s something we’re working through with all our practices right now, but acknowledge that, for some practices, yeah, people are experiencing difficulties at the moment in terms of phone access.”
David Jarrett, the CCG’s area director of South Gloucestershire, said primary care had seen “unprecedented change” during the pandemic and was experiencing “unprecedented demand” with “significant workforce challenges”.
Words: Amanda Cameron, Local Democracy Reporter
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