East Lothian GPs: Pensioner with lung infection 'gives up' after calling GP 120 times

An OAP who has been sick for a month with bronchitis said it was ‘impossible’ to see a GP at a beleaguered medical practice, after she previously called more than 120 times.

The woman from Musselburgh said after being ill more than four weeks she had ‘just accepted’ she would not be able to see a doctor at Riverside Medical Practice after calling for days to get an appointment when she first became ill.

It comes after the practice – the largest in East Lothian – has been plagued with reports that patients struggled to book an appointment or even get through on the phone. A damning review published in September revealed patients reported significant waits on the phone, no appointments available and having to call back for days and weeks before getting an appointment or in some cases giving up and going to A&E.

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Some said they had given up on trying to contact a GP even if they felt unwell, while one said they had been disciplined for making calls to get through to make an appointment while at work.

Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh

Following input from local MSPs an independent review team made 17 recommendations to improve patient access including providing alternatives to the emergency only option of booking appointments by phone at 8am. In response the practice said they will consider how to implement changes and publish a monthly report discussing progress into the recommendations.

But a patient group claims ‘it’s as bad as ever’ with many taking to social media to complain about not being able to get through. The Evening News spoke to patients who were all afraid to speak out publicly, with some claiming that they had heard of others being struck off the practice list if they had publicly complained.

‘Getting an appointment is like winning the lottery’

One older woman who has been ill for more than a month said: “This is the first time in my life I feel I don't have proper medical care. I’m not critical of the NHS, they are total heroes. But Riverside is worrying in so many ways. It’s not fit for purpose and the fact that there’s been a review and nothing has changed is frustrating. Seems as bad as ever.

"The last time I called I had to dial more than 120 times before I got an answer. Then I didn't get to see a doctor, it was a practice nurse. I’ve just accepted now that I will have to manage this myself at home. I tried emailing to express my concerns but just got an automated reply. If I had been with another surgery I would have been back to see a doctor by now because I am still not better.

"But I know it’s pointless to even try. I can’t sit there all day phoning to maybe get through and then be told there’s nothing available and try again tomorrow. I’ve also been on medication for a long time that needs reviewed but I just know that won't be treated as an emergency so no way I will get seen for that. Getting an appointment is like winning the lottery.”

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"I believe this should be considered criminal neglect. People fighting this battle are sick. We haven’t got energy to do battle with a wildly ineffecient system. But patients are afraid to speak out. The practice has been very defensive about criticism.”

The mum-of-three added that the setup creates problems for patients even if they do get an appointment. She said: “Once I was 15 minutes in a queue just to check in. I missed the appointment because of it. There’s no permanent receptionist or computer system. So huge queues build up just for patients to confirm their attendance.

‘There is some way to go’

A spokesperson for East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership said: “East Lothian Health and Social Care Partnership are committed to delivering on the recommendations from the Riverside Review Report to improve access and delivery of services from the practice. We have established a team to coordinate the response and monitor progress towards delivering on the recommendations the HSCP either need to lead on or collaborate with Riverside Medical Practice.

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"We welcomed the publication of the monthly progress report by Riverside Medical Practice on 31 October, and are pleased with the initial steps that have been taken. There is some way to go to achieving the proposals, however through partnership, collaboration, open discussion and always keeping the patient’s needs at the forefront of our minds, we aim to improve access to both the Practice and Primary Care services available to registered patients.”