Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Waiting 3 weeks for a doctor's appointment ... come on NHS , get a grip!

Having booked a doctor's appointment for my father-in-law I found myself having to cancel it today. The next available appointment was not for over 3 weeks. In the UK we are hugely fortunate to have the National Health Service which gives us free health care, but the practicalities of the scheme are appallingly old fashioned and not fitting of life in the 21st century.

In our surgery it is possible to have a walk-in appointment, Monday to Friday. This means you can turn up at 8am and, on a first come first serve basis, you will see a doctor at some point that morning. This, however, is restricted as each doctor will only see 6 patients before moving onto their normal morning list. They also run a walk-in service for patients with really urgent needs ( not accidents or the like, but cases that can't wait overnight) from 4pm until 5pm. This is a great service, but if you are not an urgent case then things start to go wrong.

Their normal bookable appointments are from 10am to 11.30am and then 2pm to 3.30pm on week days.That is it.

For most of us these days full time work, or at least part time is a necessity. There are times when we need to see a doctor, but taking time off work is a real no no. Doctor's opening hours are so old fashioned in this respect and even if the surgery itself is open the appointment times are very narrow.

Our doctor's surgery is open from 8am until 6.30pm Monday to Friday. They do not open at the weekend. So if you work in London, leaving home at 7am perhaps and getting home at 6.30, seeing a doctor is impossible without taking time off.

Even if you work locally and can get to the doctor within their opening hours you will have a wait of anything from 2 to 3 weeks or more.

I have looked at about 20 websites of doctor's surgeries across the UK and they all run to similar hours - that is from 8am to 6.30pm. I have found one surgery where they run a walk in system and are open from 8am until 8pm 365 days a year.

For goodness sake!! Surely doctors should be open when people can actually come to them, and for longer hours. Appointments should be available from  7am and go on until 9pm. I'm not saying that doctors should be huddled in their surgeries for 14 hours a day, but haven't they heard of shift work? If their appointments windows were longer they could fit in more patients and so there wouldn't be such a wait for appointments.

They should be open at weekends - at least on Saturdays if they can't manage Sundays.

My own father was a doctor and even when I worked for him 25 years ago the surgery was open until 7pm. He used to do regular home visits and was on call for his patients overnight on a rota system. There was none of this farming care out to medical centres. And believe me - he really didn't struggle with overwork.

It seems to me that the system is so old fashioned, so weighed down with "the way things are" that they can't see out of the box and realise that life has changed. We, the public, need appointments outside of our work hours. To make my 86 year old father-in-law wait over 3 weeks for a 5 minute appointment is wrong. And its just because they want to work normal hours themselves. Well, people don't work "normal hours" any more. People work shifts and overtime and long hours.

If you need to see a doctor you need to see them within a week and you need to be able to see them without taking time off work. When you do finally see the doctor they are fantastic most of the time, but only working such limited surgery hours is ridiculous.

I know doctor's lives are not easy, but they get paid a lot of money and if they organised themselves they could provide a decent service that was accessible to all.

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