MP slams ‘appalling phone system’ at GP surgeries

Giles Watling (Conservative MP for Clacton) Picture: House of Commons

Giles Watling (Conservative MP for Clacton) Picture: House of Commons - Credit: Archant

An Essex MP has vowed to get to the bottom of challenges faced by patients at a cluster of doctor’s surgeries in Tendring.

Giles Watling revealed his “deep frustrations” with problems reported at four practices run by Anglian Community Healthcare in a statement to constituents.

Patients are struggling to get appointments and the telephone system is “appalling”, warned the Clacton MP, who is registered at one of the surgeries himself.

However, those in charge of the practices – Green Elms in Jaywick, Epping Close in Clacton, Frinton Road in Holland-on-Sea and Caradoc Surgery in Frinton – say the new phone system installed last year, known as the ‘hub’, is improving.

Bosses say they have worked tirelessly to improve call answering times since it was rolled out, and the average wait is now down to seven minutes.

Yet some patients are still experiencing waits of 20 minutes – with 90% of calls answered within that time – though leaders know this needs further work.

But Mr Watling said: “I am acutely aware that this issue is still ongoing and I am deeply frustrated that this situation doesn’t seem to have been resolved.

“Both my wife and I are patients of one of the practices, and we have first-hand experiences of the challenges others have written to me about, obtaining an appointment for example.

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“It is vital that the ongoing issues are resolved to ensure patients are treated quickly, receive repeat prescriptions in a timely manner and obtain test results swiftly.

“Not only that, but it is also unacceptable that patients are still encountering lengthy delays when trying to book an appointment with a GP. He added: “The telephony system has been nothing short of appalling.”

Mr Watling said he understands the situation is improving, and vowed to keep trying to get to the bottom of what is happening.

The MP has taken part in various meetings about the problems, which were also attended by former chief operating officer of the north east Essex CCG, Sam Hepplewhite.

He is due to meet interim officer Ed Garratt in the coming weeks.

MORE: Scale of doctor shortages in our region revealedLynne Woodcock, managing director at Anglian Community Enterprise (ACE), said the company has introduced a new telephone system to boost the quality of their service.

“The introduction of our new telephone system and our care navigation arrangements have been bold moves, with the goal of improving the quality of service we can offer local residents,” she said.

“While we acknowledge the system has taken some time to get right, and it is still not perfect, we feel it has brought improvements, and is becoming measurably better all the time.

“Our system also means when people get through, they’re not just speaking to an administrator, but to a trained care navigator.

“On getting through, people are offered advice immediately on the phone and then can be directed to the clinician best qualified to help, or they may even avoid the need of an appointment altogether.”

MORE: ‘Chaos’ as switch to phone system at four Tendring surgeries causes delaysShe added: “We will continue to liaise with patients, our commissioners and other interested parties, and we are happy to continue our active dialogue with Mr Watling, with the goal of making our service the very best it can be within the limits of the funding the NHS provides.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the north east Essex CCG said the organisation takes performance issues extremely seriously.

“We fully recognise the importance of our local population receiving safe, effective and quality GP services,” they said.

“The hub – a single gateway for telephone calls into all four practices - represents the main focus of ACE’s new way of working to reduce demand and improve patient experience.

“We recognise that this hub, which went live in January 2018, experienced difficulties, leading to a decrease in patient access.

“The CCG regularly meets with ACE and visits the practices to monitor improvement.”

A prescription clerk has recently been employed at the hub to manage queries, alongside a pharmacist to conduct medication reviews in each ACE practice.

• Have you experienced problems with booking appointments at your surgery? Let us know via email.

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