Eastbourne patients are struggling to make GP appointments

Eastbourne patients of Victoria Medical Centre say they have been struggling to make GP appointments after getting stuck in phone queues of up to 50 people.

People have been contacting the Eastbourne Herald to complain about the situation – and venting their frustration on the centre’s ratings and reviews page.

The Victoria Medical Centre formed last year with the merger of the town’s Green Street, Enys Road and Bolton Road surgeries.

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A new multi-million pound building to house the centre has been built in Victoria Drive, which is due to open soon.

Victoria Medical Centre (VMC) Vaccination Clinic inside The Beacon shopping centre in Eastbourne. SUS-210901-143419001

On the centre’s ratings and reviews page Dave Bloomfield said, “Trying to get through on your phone system is a joke, every time I ring I am number 48 in the queue, then after trying many times, the next time I rang it went all through the guff then when I pressed the chosen number it cut off, three times I tried to no avail.”

Another anonymous complainant said, “I phoned the new number this morning (14th April) to arrange a blood test. The queue was 43 calls long. I tried again later and it was up to 47 calls. I decided to leave calling until the evening when, hopefully, it would be quieter. I phoned at 18.25 and was placed at position 12 in the queue. I moved to position 1 at 21.02.

“I appreciate there are difficulties with the new system but a temporary change to the welcome message giving guidance would have helped. A very stressful and time wasting experience. I came out of the queue at 23.05.”
Another person on the ratings and reviews site also had an issue while trying to contact the surgery in regards to a blood test.

Kenneth Richards said, “I called to get blood test results on 16th April and was placed 15 in the queue. I then waited half an hour to be connected.

“I feel that these problems could and should have been anticipated in advance. The thought of needing to contact you again really concerns me and the implications are quite alarming. If this is progress I fail to see it.”

Another complainant under the name Wendy said, “When the surgeries were separate you could phone and speak to someone in reception within five minutes, now the surgery has combined the phone system is awful, I waited 40 minutes to speak to someone and when I finally got through holding for ages the phone rang and rang and then the person who answered breathed into the phone a couple of times so there was definitely someone there and then hung up!

“I then had to call back and wait another 40 minutes to speak to someone. I have completely wasted my time today during work hours to sort out a simple matter this is going to cause a lot of people to be stressed and to then have to repeat the whole saga a second time is beyond ridiculous”

Another patient praised the Victoria Medical Centre but raised concern over waiting times on the phone.

An anonymous complainant said, “The staff are all very friendly and I have nothing but nice things to say about them, including the treatment from all receptionists and medical staff, and I have also been very impressed with their vaccination centre.

“Unfortunately, any communication has been extremely difficult since the merger. This is not related to the pandemic as I never had this issue in 2020 or early 2021. The longest I had waited in the past on the phone was 15 minutes, but my most recent call took 90 minutes to reach a receptionist and was told I could not make an appointment that day.

“I understand that due to the current situation they can only book appointments on the same day, but had there been a recorded message then I would not have spent such a long time on hold. I hope this can be sorted soon as my experience has been so good otherwise.”

A spokesperson for NHS East Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group said, “We are very sorry to hear that recently some patients have not had a positive experience when accessing services at Victoria Medical Centre, including problems getting through to the GP practice on the telephone.

“We are working closely with the GPs, staff and management to improve the situation and actions are being taken to address these issues.

“COVID-19 has presented all GP practices, not just in East Sussex but across the country, with the added challenge of continuing to provide services during a global pandemic in a safe way for patients and staff.

“Patient access to GP practices was immediately switched to via the telephone or online, when people didn’t need to be seen face to face, and this has meant that all GP practices have seen increased demand on their phone systems. “Whilst steps were taken to try to improve phone systems, we know that it has taken longer for people to get through to GP practices compared to before the pandemic.

“Victoria Medical Centre has also been one of the vaccination services in our local area and this has also resulted in an increase in calls to the GP practice from patients asking about their vaccination.

“As lockdown measures start to ease and life begins to get back to ‘normal’ we acknowledge that the issues experienced by some patients are not what they would expect, and we are working hard with the GP practice to ensure things improve quickly.”