PATIENTS at Banbridge Group Surgery have said they find the current appointment waiting times unacceptable and called the system for securing a cancellation slot “a lottery”.
The comments follow a complaint from a Banbridge man to the Leader last week that he had to wait six days to have any chance of getting an appointment.
Many readers who contacted this paper following that story said their experiences have included two-week waits and unsuccessful attempts to get through when they ring, as advised, first thing each morning for a cancellation.
Another patient has since come forward to say the system as it stands is “a disgrace”.
Steven Barr, a local chef, recounted an experience earlier this year when he waited two weeks for an appointment, and then had to wait a further 45 minutes on the day before seeing his doctor.
“Having had to wait two weeks for the appointment, and all the anxiety that wait brings with it when you are getting something checked out that could potentially be serious, I was stunned to have to wait almost another hour when I got to the clinic,” the 42-year-old told the Leader.
“I wasn’t given any explanation as to why I had to wait another 45 minutes. I had contacted the surgery initially because I was worried about something, quite a personal issue, so asked to see my own doctor.
“As far as I was concerned that was why I had to wait two weeks in the first place, and I was prepared to do that because I wanted to see someone I was comfortable with.”
Mr Barr said he was disappointed to find that, after waiting what he deemed quite a long time for his appointment, he then had to see a locum doctor as his doctor was away.
“I hadn’t even been informed that my doctor wouldn’t be there. I might have tried to reschedule in that case, but it would have been nice to at least have been told.”
Mr Barr said he understands that there is pressure on the health service who have faced a raft of cuts lately, but added that the service provided does not match the money users are paying towards it.
“We pay our taxes to fund the NHS but quite often you find that the service you get is nowhere near what you expect or deserve,” he said.
“The doctors are great when you do get to see them, but the process of getting to that point is less than satisfactory.”
Another local man supported Mr Barr’s view. He said, “The ‘ring next morning at 8am for a cancellation’ policy does not work.
“The line is constantly engaged from 8am. The Group Surgery is clearly struggling in the context of an ever-expanding town.”
Other readers spoke out in support of staff, saying they provide an excellent service to local people.
“I can understand the frustration people are feeling and I’ve felt annoyed when I can’t get to my own GP rather than a locum,” said one woman. “And it annoys me when I turn up and they are running late, but that said I will stand up for them. I have always got excellent service. They work so hard.”
Another local woman said she believes the medical staff are doing the best they can within a limited timeframe.
“I’ve been in the same position myself and had to wait for an appointment, but a GP can only see so many people in a day and once the appointments are given out for the day or week then the secretaries can’t magic more out of thin air,” she said.
“I’ve always found the staff to be very helpful, especially when I’ve been trying to get an appointment or medication for my kids. As for not being able to see your own GP and having to see a locum, your GP is entitled to their holidays or they might be off because they are ill, or their children are sick or they have a family emergency.”
While no-one from the surgery was available for comment this week, Practice Manager Nicola Cummings told the Leader last week that the surgery offers various alternatives when a patient cannot secure an appointment within a short space of time.
“We do not turn away anyone in need of an appointment – we work hard to cover all bases and provide alternative options for people until they can be seen at the surgery,” said Ms Cummings.
These options include a voicemail service for a callback from a doctor, as well as advice to ring each morning for a cancellation appointment.