Action pledge on surgery phones

November 24 2021

HEALTH officials say they are working to improve phone systems at some GP practices after continued complaints that patients cannot get through to make appointments.

Councillors first raised the issue in the summer and in September Kingswood representative April Begley voiced her concerns at the South Gloucestershire healthy scrutiny commission meeting.

She said she feared that some people would give up on trying to contact their surgery and described her own experience after receiving letters from the practice advising her to make an appointment. Councillor Begley said she eventually had to go to the surgery to make the booking.  

“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.”

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. Some surgeries still have staff shortages linked to the pandemic.

They also  face the burdens of an expanded flu vaccination programme,  a Covid vaccine booster programme,  and a backlog of routine blood tests caused by a blood tube shortage last month.

Jenny Bowker,  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.

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”.