The patients who face ONE HOUR on phone to reach their GP: Desperate struggle to get appointments is laid bare as survey shows some people have even been cut off after waiting more than ten minutes
- Survey included 60 randomly-selected urban and rural surgeries across England
- It revealed that almost one in five left callers waiting for 15 minutes or more
- Across England the average wait time was 8 minutes and 36 seconds for callers
Patients calling their GP surgeries to book an appointment face waiting in a queue for up to an hour, according to a snapshot survey by the Daily Mail.
Some have been cut off on more than one occasion after waiting for more than ten minutes.
But in a stark illustration of the postcode lottery facing patients across the country, six out of ten practices surveyed answered in five minutes or less.
With demand for appointments returning to pre-pandemic levels, patients have struggled to get hold of their surgery by phone.
And when they do get through, frequently they will only be offered a telephone appointment rather than a face-to-face consultation.
Colin Boughton-Smith (above) gave up on trying to see his GP after calling ‘at least 50 times’
Following a Daily Mail campaign to boost the number of GP appointments held in person, Health Secretary Sajid Javid last month unveiled a nine-point package of measures aimed at improving access for patients.
It included a funding package to upgrade some surgeries’ antiquated telephone systems in a bid to cope with surging demand.
In a sign of rising frustration, MPs held a debate last week at which they told of packed postbags with desperate constituents reporting ringing their GP surgery 150 times or more trying to get through.
I called at least 50 times then gave up
Colin Boughton-Smith gave up on trying to see his GP after calling ‘at least 50 times’.
The 72-year-old contacted Burnham Health Centre in Buckinghamshire on July 1 after hurting his back.
After 28 days of calling at 8am – and waiting at least 20 minutes without success – as well as trying to book via an app and visiting in person, he wasn’t able to get an appointment.
After emailing the practice manager, a doctor called him – but Mr Boughton-Smith missed it as he was in the toilet. He emailed again a few days later but got no response.
Mr Boughton-Smith’s MP, Joy Morrissey, wrote to the local commissioning group.
Incredibly, its reply claimed the pensioner was a minor and said his father would need to write for him to be seen.
‘It was a complete fob off,’ Mr Boughton-Smith said. A surgery spokesman said it was ‘actively looking into’ updated phone systems.
Now a survey of 60 randomly-selected urban and rural surgeries across England conducted by the Daily Mail has found that almost one in five left callers waiting for 15 minutes or more.
Across England the average wait time was 8 minutes and 36 seconds, but 19 per cent of surgeries left callers waiting for 15 minutes or more.
The longest wait time was an hour and 19 minutes at a surgery in Kent.
It took 45 minutes to get through to a medical centre in Newcastle upon Tyne, while the third longest wait was 39 minutes at a practice in Lancaster.
On a more positive note, six out of ten practices answered in five minutes or less.
All calls were made after 9am – after the rush of patients seeking urgent appointments – and before 3pm.
Many practices play recorded messages to callers queuing, urging them to hang up and visit their website or call 111 for urgent medical advice.
But campaigners say elderly or disabled patients are more likely to struggle to access technology.
James Sunderland, Conservative MP for Bracknell, described last week how one resident tried 159 times to get through after becoming concerned about a lump on her neck, only to be offered a telephone consultation.
Chris Green, Conservative MP for Bolton West, said the problem risked increasing the pressure on overloaded hospitals.
‘Many people are now going to accident and emergency,’ he said. ‘The system is coming under significant and increasing pressure, which is piling up as we head into winter.’
Some have been cut off on more than one occasion after waiting for more than ten minutes
MPs said staff were being let down by under-investment in IT systems.
This was also the view of Dennis Reed, of patient campaign group Silver Voices.
He said: ‘Although there are some very good GP practices, a large number operate on a last century style of customer service with last century telephone systems.’
NHS England said it was helping practices move to cloud-based telephone systems which provide extra lines, automated queuing and feedback on demand levels.
It stressed that over 98 per cent of surgeries enable patients to book appointments online.
Professor Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, welcomed plans to improve surgeries’ phone systems but said it was essential for the Government to meet its manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 extra practice employees by 2024 so clinics can meet the escalating demand.