Patient at Lothian medical practice tried over 400 times in one day to get through on phone without success

A patient tried 400 times in one day to contact her medical practice – and still did not get through.

Wednesday, 25th November 2020, 9:16 am

Forty-two-year-old Cleo Kane is just one of many who say they are left hanging on the phone for hours when they try to get an appointment at Riverside Medical Practice in Musselburgh and are turned away if they show up in person.

Their exasperation has reached such a pitch that they have set up a dedicated Facebook page to share their experiences of the practice, which is based at Musselburgh Primary Care Centre.

And they claim people who fail to get through to the practice end up turning to NHS24 or going to A&E instead.

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Patients have set up a dedicated Facebook page to share their experiences of the practice

Ms Kane, from Newcraighall, who has been a patient at Riverside for seven years, said: “I've been trying to get an appointment for months and months, but it's quite time-consuming when you’re working and you’ve got a kid. It's doing my head in.”

She said she wanted to see a doctor about bad period pains which were now causing her not to leave the hous. “It's getting that bad I just need to speak to someone to make sure there’s nothing untoward going on but I can’t get through to anybody.

“I made 400 and odd calls on one day - right from two minutes to eight in the morning right through to 1pm, and still didn't get through, then I had to got to work.

“I was just pressing repeat, repeat. I didn’t even get on hold, it just constantly went to the message that they were experiencing extremely high calls and please call back later. It gets infuriating.”

Riverside medical practice is based at Musselburgh Primary Care Centre.

Former nurse Ros Wells, 71, from Wallyford, was unwell recently and recognised it as a urinary infection, which she had had before.

“I knew all the symptoms, I was in agony and I felt rotten. I phoned and phoned and couldn’t get through, so I thought I would just take a sample down and hand it in with an explanatory note and they could check it.

“I said to the receptionist ‘Can I hand this in for testing?’ She looked at me and asked if I had spoken to anybody and said she couldn’t take it.

"Eventually took my phone number and I had to go home. Two hours later I got a phone call from a doctor, who couldn’t have been nicer, who said I needed an antibiotic and she did need the sample so I had to trot all the way back down to the surgery feeling crap with this sample. I was flaming.”

Janice Cartledge, also from Wallyford, said it was nearly impossible to get through on the phone.

“I was on the phone for an hour and two minutes and I never got through,” she said. “We can't afford to pay for all that. It's a disgrace. It's been like this for months now and it just seems to be getting worse.”

East Lothian SNP MP Kenny MacAskill said he had received numerous complaints about the practice and the problem seemed to be long-standing.

He said: “I know the health and social care partnership is carrying out a review into medical provision for the area, which is expanding significantly, and there are concerns about capacity.”

And he said there were discussions about some additional resource being provided to help the practice.

"I think what we need to do is support the health and social care partnership who in return seek to support the practice to be the best they can be, but there is no denying there is a cause for concern and it requires addressed.”

Dr Richard Fairclough, managing partner at Riverside Medical Practice, said he and his colleagues knew patients were having trouble getting through on the phone and shared their frustration.

He said: “We’re currently facing great demand for all of the care we offer at Riverside, due to patients who stayed away during the initial Covid-19 outbreak now understandably trying to get appointments for their health worries that haven’t gone away. We’re also facing the usual winter illnesses, teamed with a really busy and successful flu vaccination programme.

“Before Covid-19 we usually received around 10,000 calls a month and had 1,500 same day appointments a month available in the nurse-led clinic run by the East Lothian Health & Social Care Partnership (ELHSCP), which can assess and treat patients with a range of health concerns. This is in addition to the GP appointments we offer each month.

“We’re currently receiving over 40,000 call attempts a month and the number of same day nurse appointments available for patients has reduced because the nurse-led clinic was asked to instead provide Covid-19 support to people across East Lothian and are only now starting to see Riverside patients again. Daily support we had for managing patient calls from NHS 24 has also been diverted to Covid-19 care.

“Our fantastic 40-strong team of GPs, nurses and other allied health professionals, along with our operations team, are trying our very best to manage this huge surge in demand and are exploring all avenues to try and better meet the needs of our patients, at this time when we know so many of them have health worries.

“We’re also in the process of recruiting a new team of nurses and paramedics who can support us to triage telephone calls and get people the right care, at the right time.”

He urged patients to help by making repeat prescription requests in good time and using the online order service to do so if they can; and checking the symptom advice on, to see if their condition can be managed through self-care at home and by seeking advice from other health professionals, like a pharmacist.

And he said there was a lot of care patients could access at Riverside without a GP appointment, self-referring for physiotherapy, minor injury assessment and mental health services, and they could visit the website at for phone numbers to call direct rather than going through the busy main phone line.

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