Survey reveals struggles to get Norfolk GP appointments

Survey reveals struggles to get Norfolk GP appointments

The frustratingly long waits patients endure on the phone when trying to make appointments to see Norfolk doctors have been exposed in a survey by watchdogs.

Patients are having difficulty getting appointments with GPs, according to a major survey by Healthwatch Norfolk, and chief health officers have been urged to take action to prevent people from getting hung up on the phone.

But NHS bosses Norfolk and Waveney say more appointments are now available than ever before, although not all are in person with GPs.

Spurred by increasing complaints about people who were unhappy with their surgical experiences, the patient watchdog conducted a four-month survey of doctors’ offices across the county.

Visiting 50 sites and speaking to more than 500 patients, the Healthwatch Norfolk survey found:

  • While 46% of patients said they would rate booking appointments with their GP a five out of five, others said they were waiting for long periods on the phone, and some got cut off.
  • Many patients believed that receptionists were making clinical decisions or deciding who could be seen first, not knowing that those decisions were actually being made by trained clinical staff.
  • Frustration among some patients that they were only able to book appointments as emergencies on the day and not for specific days in advance.
  • Patients were unaware of, or reluctant to use, online ways to book appointments and were unaware that surgeries offered other services as alternatives to seeing GPs.
  • Some patients viewed virtual appointments as a substitute for in-person appointments.

Following the survey, Healthwatch Norfolk has made a number of recommendations to chief health officers which it says could help reduce patient frustration and ease the pressure on GPs.

The recommendations call for an overhaul of phone systems to reduce patient waiting times, for chief physicians to encourage surgeries that do a good job to share ideas with others and for communication with patients to be improved.

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, CEO of Healthwatch NorfolkAlex Stewart, CEO of Healthwatch Norfolk (Image: Archant)

Healthwatch Norfolk chief executive Alex Stewart said: “More research is needed into phone systems to make sure they are fit for purpose, and patients need better information about how they can access help and how their surgery works. GP after Covid”.

“Some practices are doing this very well within their communities, but others need more help and support from their health colleagues and the NHS Norfolk and Waveney communications team.

“There are surgeries that do a very good job of making sure patients are aware of the help they can provide and helping people get it.

“We would like to see the experience, knowledge and experiences of those staff shared in Norfolk to help improve communication and support for patients.”

What do the heads of health say?

Eastern Daily Press: NHS Norfolk and Waveney say more patient appointments are available than everNHS Norfolk and Waveney say more patient appointments are available than ever (Image: Press Association)

NHS bosses Norfolk and Waveney welcomed the report but said more appointments were now available than ever before.

And they said GP practices already had measures in place to ensure people received the right care and support, although that could mean virtual appointments, rather than face-to-face ones.

The spokeswoman said: “We welcome the report and recommendations from Healthwatch Norfolk on ways to improve the patient experience with GP practices.

“We know how important it is for people to receive immediate care from their GP in a way that is tailored to their needs.

“Helping people get the right care and support when they need it and listening and responding to people’s needs and preferences is something local practices do every day.”

She said that since the Covid-19 pandemic, GPs had worked differently in the way patient requests are managed and what is offered in surgeries.

They said: “This includes introducing a variety of healthcare roles within practices, providing flexibility for patients to agree on the type of care they want to receive, and reducing wait times.

“In addition, there is clinical triage to better understand how a person might be seen, whether it’s an in-person appointment, a phone consultation, or a video call.

“Using these measures, practices in Norfolk and Waveney are offering more appointments than ever before.”

But he added: “The Healthwatch Norfolk report highlights the need for continued and varied methods of communication between practices and patients to improve patient understanding of these measures, which will help further improve the patient experience.”

READ MORE: Five Norfolk GPs see less than half of patients face to face

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