Opinion: A need for change – the patient experience is not acceptable

Continued inability of many patients to get appointments exacerbates problems at A&E, MP Paul Bristow writes

It is a reminder that money alone is not enough. As with the global supply chain, the shutdown of swathes of the NHS during the pandemic triggered later issues.

Given the pressure on hospitals during the lockdown, I know they haven’t always had much choice about canceling certain procedures and surgeries. This applied less to diagnostic work, which in some cases is felt in missed diagnoses for conditions like cancer.

Unlike hospitals, GP surgeries did not have wards full of Covid patients. But they too had challenges. The continued inability of many patients to get appointments exacerbates the problems at A&E. I would like to point out that many local medical practices have been exemplary. Others don’t. Over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to get a sense of the extent of the problem.

So I launched an online survey. Now, before I receive (unnecessary) comments on Twitter, I am aware that these polls are not necessarily representative. However, if 5 people using a particular doctor’s office all say they can’t get an appointment, common sense suggests there might be a problem getting an appointment there.

Given that nearly 500 people from across Peterborough responded, providing their home address, contact details and identifying their GP practice, I take the results seriously. And they don’t make reading enjoyable.

First, some basic numbers. Over 80% said they could not get an appointment with their GP. Less than 10% found it ‘easy’ or ‘quite easy’. It should be noted that many were open to using new methods, with 42% wanting a phone meeting or happy with a mix. They still couldn’t get this – and less than a third had the ability to book online, despite this, saving everyone time.

Only 14% of people were overall satisfied and 94% said their GP services had not returned to pre-pandemic levels. Perhaps most worryingly, a third had been encouraged to use A&E by their surgery. No wonder our emergency services are struggling.

Beyond the numbers, I also sat down reading the individual reviews. It drives home what the numbers really mean, in terms of what some residents have been forced to endure.

Here’s one: “You’re told to go to A&E. When you get there, you’re there all day. This is my experience twice. In addition, I had to wait three weeks for a telephone appointment with a doctor. When you ring the bell at 8 a.m., you wait a long time, then you are told that all the appointments are gone.

It’s not acceptable. Most of our GPs are successful and others are trying, but – for some – the need for change has become urgent.

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