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Cornish patients struggling to book GP appointments

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Published by Emma Carton at 6:49am 16th May 2018 (Updated 7:04am 16th May 2018)

Cornish patients struggling to book a routine GP appointment

Research is revealing that Cornish patients are struggling to book an appointment to see their GP.

Healthwatch Cornwall says more than one in five were left waiting over a week for a routine slot.

Its figures also show that in 2017, almost half found it difficult to get through to their surgery on the phone.

Jane lives near Penzance and has been asked to see a particular doctor for treatment.

She told Pirate FM: "I've been trying for a few weeks now to get an appointment to see a particular GP.

"So much so that time's gone by and the doctors have actually written to me asking me to make an appointment with them because it is quite urgent. I still can't get an appointment to see them for another two weeks.

"It's very important. Your health's a top priority. It's really frustrating - annoying in fact. I've even offered to go and see another GP but they don't want me to do that. They actually want me to stay with the GP that's been treating me for quite a while".

The health and social care watchdog report, GP Access in Cornwall: "What's your experience?" is based on more than 2,100 responses to its survey to discover how easy or difficult people find booking a routine doctor's appointment.

Healthwatch Cornwall's Chief Executive Amanda Stratford said: "The most striking element from feedback is how varied access can be. It also highlighted that there is a clear difference in when people are offered an appointment with a doctor with when they wanted an appointment with a doctor - only one in 10 said they needed a same day appointment.

"By not offering advance routine appointments, undue pressure may be being placed on the system, leading to frustration for patients who have to keep calling back each day until an appointment is available".

What does the report show?

  • Most people (84%) phoned their surgery to try to make an appointment but almost half found it difficult to get through, while call back or triage systems worked for some but not others such as people in work who cannot easily answer their phones.
  • Almost half (46%) found getting through to speak to someone not easy and the overall experience of booking an appointment was poor for 38% of people. Experiences varied depending on which practice people were registered with.
  • There was a variation across Cornwall in how long people waited to access a routine/non-urgent appointment with a doctor. While many were given an appointment with a GP quickly, on the same day (45%) or the next working day (8%), nearly one in five waited longer than a week (21%), with some reporting they waited several weeks.

Healthwatch Cornwall said that for some people, particularly those with mental health or long term conditions, not being able to see the same doctor caused them most concern as opposed to how quickly they could see a doctor.

It created the survey in collaboration with health service commissioners NHS Kernow, and has now made several recommendations to them in a bid to improve access.

What is the response from health bosses?

NHS Kernow's Director of Primary Care, Andrew Abbott said: "Healthwatch Cornwall's survey findings will support the work we are doing with GPs, nurses, community leaders and patient groups, including Healthwatch Cornwall, to understand patient experience.

"It will help develop what services are needed and where, and to reduce the variation in experience outlined in this report.

"We know there are still areas where we can improve to ensure people have the same level of care wherever they live, and GPs in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are working hard to make sure their patients get the support and care they need, when they need it.

"The Care Quality Commission has rated every one of our 62 GP surgeries and the GP out of hours service as providing either good or outstanding care, with the results of the National GP Survey showing that 90% of people in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly who contributed said they had a good experience of using their GP surgery, compared to 85% nationally.

"Healthwatch Cornwall is a valued partner in our work to transform health and care services in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and we will now review their findings with our GPs and make sure they are considered in our plans to integrate health and care services".

What are Healthwatch Cornwall's recommendations?

The recommendations to NHS Kernow include addressing the variation in wait to see a doctor across the county; offering advance booking for routine appointments; enhancing a person's ability to see the same doctor; a review of telephone triage to note patient availability in accepting call backs and patient preferences for sharing information with non-medical staff; and further public education to inform people about the range of healthcare professionals who could manage their care where appropriate.

Nearly three quarters of respondents felt the standard opening times of 8am to 6.30pm are sufficient, with weekday evenings, Saturday mornings and afternoons cited as the next preferred.

Almost everyone stated they would be happy to travel 15 to 30 minutes to an appointment at these times, while there is also an appetite for more online services from making appointments to checking test results and communicating with healthcare professionals.

Further analysis into the differing accessibility options across locations and individual surgeries is now proposed.

You can read the full report here.

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