‘Never-ending and horrifying’ complaints from Horsham district patients about experiences trying to get a GP appointment causes concern for councillors

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A councillor plans to write to all GPs in the Horsham district after receiving complaints from residents who said they could not get appointments at some practices.

Claire Vickers (Con, Southwater North) told a meeting of the full council on Wednesday (September 1) that she would be asking doctors how their booking systems worked and how this was being communicated to patients.

She added: “The pandemic has changed so many aspects of how we live our day-to-day lives and I want to ensure those who need GP appointments the most – that’s our older and vulnerable residents – are not being put off from booking appointments and are still able to visit their local surgeries.”

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There was a similar story from Brian Donnelly, who described the complaints he had received as ‘never-ending and horrifying’.

He added: “If you can get a telephone appointment in six weeks you are lucky.”

GPs have long warned about the rise in demand for primary care services.

Earlier this year, the Doctors’ Association UK wrote a letter to then health secretary Matt Hancock calling for an urgent review of the demand at GP practices, after it saw workloads ‘going through the roof’.

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Figures from NHS Digital showed that in July, GPs in the West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group area dealt with 381,367 appointments – an increase of 26,094 on July 2020.

Of those patients, more than 108,000 either saw a doctor, received a home visit or had a telephone or video consultation between one week and four weeks after making their appointment.

Just over 169,253 were helped on the day they called and a further 31,682 one day after calling.

As well as dealing with general appointments, July saw more than 66,500 people make Covid vaccination appointments.

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A spokesman for the NHS West Sussex clinical commissioning group said: “GP practices are incredibly busy right now, as are many other NHS services across Sussex.

“Staff are working extremely hard to make sure that patients are kept safe, whilst ensuring that people can get the care they need in the most appropriate way.

“GP practices are open, and the number of appointments available have increased with a range of highly trained staff, including doctors, nurses, pharmacists physiotherapists and paramedics who are able to deal with a range of medical conditions, which will help patients get treated sooner.

“We recognise that a triage process may mean that people have to wait longer on the phone, but it means that GP practices are able to prioritise those who need them most to treat them first and identify the most appropriate health professional to provide support, so that GPs are available for those who really need those appointments.

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“Whilst it may seem that GPs are less available at the moment, they are actually delivering more appointments than ever while at the same time also leading the delivery of the COVID-19 vaccination programme and preparing for flu vaccinations.

“We understand that it may be frustrating to wait for some time on the phone, but we ask that people continue to treat GP practice teams with courtesy and respect so that they can continue to provide care and support for you.

“If patients have any concerns about their care, we encourage them to get in touch with us directly with more information.”

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