Comment: ‘Long wait can have serious consequences’

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DO you have a problem getting through to your GP surgery on the telephone? If you live in the Grange, Bruntsfield, Polwarth or Murrayfield you are likely to wonder why we are even asking.

But for many patients in the Lothians, this is a growing area of frustration which could have serious consequences.

After complaints from readers we decided to investigate just how quickly a patient could speak to a receptionist in a selection of GP practices.

In the best surgeries, the phone was picked up almost immediately (less that six seconds) but for the worst this meant more than 15 minutes hanging on the line.

In Dalkeith, for example, our callers were met with a succession of engaged tones before finally hearing a recorded message that told us we were in a queue.

A caveat is that this was, of course, just a snapshot survey over a week.

However, there are clearly wide disparities between performance in different areas.

Some may ask why does this matter?

Well, tens of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent annually to convince us to get checked or visit the doctor. Men can be particularly reluctant here.

So difficulties in getting through to your GP on the phone, or getting a timely appointment thereafter, could cause some to give up. This could mean vital health checks are missed.

Ironically, this issue is likely to be more important in areas of higher deprivation, which is exactly where the problem is most acute.

Worryingly, a senior doctor at Dalkeith Medical Practice believes getting through on the telephone could actually get worse due to funding cuts.

The health service has targets for almost everything these days. Patients should know how long they can be expected to wait when calling for an appointment.