Patients needled over problems with making GP appointments

PATIENTS in Sheffield are increasingly dissatisfied with the ease of getting a doctor's appointment, according to a new report.

Research carried out by Sheffield Local Involvement Network (LINk) reveals that satisfaction levels in Sheffield are below the national average when it comes to getting an appointment within 48 hours and also making appointments with specific GPs.

Two years ago, Sheffield LINk formed an action group to investigate access to GPs, in response to concerns about the difficulty in making appointments and long waiting times in surgeries.

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In carrying out the research, the group set Sheffield's services against national data, met with NHS Sheffield managers and investigated GPs practices.

Their findings have now been published in a report set to go before members of NHS Sheffield's board of directors tomorrow.

"Sheffield needs to address its patient satisfaction levels in the area of access to GPs", the report says.

"Although the figures for this satisfaction are falling nationally, Sheffield is several points below the national average on most measures.

"More efficient and flexible ways of accessing GPs are also likely to ease pressure on A&E services and be financially efficient.

"GP practices need to look at a range of solutions for ensuring that the public can access GPs at times and in ways that work for both."

The report goes on to say that "self-care" should be encouraged, so people suffering from minor ailments such as coughs and colds don't take up appointments that could be used by those with a more serious illness.

To tackle the current problems, the report makes a number of recommendations.

These include introducing both drop-in appointments, where patients who arrive by a certain time are guaranteed to be seen by a doctor, and a telephone appointments system where patients are encouraged to "come at less busy or extended hours surgery times".

Sheffield LINk also encourages having emergency appointments available during surgery hours, enabling patients to book appointments by text or email and advising patients of the best time to make appointments.

It is also suggested that surgeries could have touch-screen systems, so patients could book themselves in, and "practice patient panels" could be set up for people to discuss the effectiveness of their GPs surgeries.

The report says: " A recurring issue identified by members of Sheffield LINk has been the difficulty some people find in getting to see a GP.

Making appointments, waiting time between booking and the actual appointment, and long waits in the surgery have all been mentioned."

Figures in the report show that patient satisfaction in Sheffield has declined over the last three years. In 2009/10, 74 per cent of Sheffielders said they were satisfied they could get 48-hour access to a doctor, compared with 80 per cent nationwide, and 72 per cent said they were satisfied they could get an appointment with a specific doctor – compared to 75 per cent nationwide.

Eighty per cent said they were satisfied with their GPs opening times, just below the national average of 81 per cent.

Responding to the report, Karen Curran, head of primary care at NHS Sheffield, said: "LINk's report uses access satisfaction scores that are over a year old, and many practices have undertaken a number of improvements over this period. Most now offer many of the recommendations identified within the report.

"Access to GPs was a major priority for NHS Sheffield during 2009/2010, and led to a specific team being formed to tackle the issue of low patient satisfaction scores in some practices.

"Over a period of 12 months GP practices have reviewed such things as appointment systems, being able to speak to or see a GP or nurse and improvements to communicating with patients."