GP patient survey by Healthwatch Reading reveals views on appointments and care

Posted 13/09/2016

Only seven per cent of Reading people are booking GP appointments online, according to a Healthwatch Reading project.

There are also wide differences across Reading in the extended hours GP surgeries offer for appointments. This means, for example, that only some people can see their GP on Saturday mornings if they are unable to get time off during work hours.

Healthwatch Reading – the local patient rights organisation – surveyed 595 people during visits to 31 GP surgeries in or around Reading during a year-long project from April 2015-March 2016.

Individual surgery reports were posted on Healthwatch Reading’s website soon after each visit, and Healthwatch is now publishing findings and themes from all the visits in a new, 50-pg report.

Key findings include:

  • Most people (78%) booked appointments by telephone
  • Only 7% of people booked appointments online and many people told us they did not know they could so this
  • Five surgeries told us they did not open on any Saturdays at all (three of these were small surgeries with under 3,000 patients, but two were bigger, with 7,000 or more people)
  • No surgeries opened on a Sunday (except the Reading Walk-in Centre)
  • Nearly one-quarter of people (24%) said they did not always see the doctor or nurse of their choice
  • 12% of people said they could not get a same-day appointment
  • More than 8 in 10 were happy with the quality of care they received

Healthwatch Reading’s chief executive Mandeep Kaur Sira will present the findings to a meeting in public of the Primary Care Commissioning Committee (which makes major decisions about GP services in Reading) on 21 September 2016.

Ms Sira said: ‘Our project shows how much Reading people value a local GP service, from doctors that they know and trust. However, Reading people face a lottery on what kind of appointment slots might be available to fit in with busy lives or commitments, whether early morning, later evening, or Saturdays. We believe this inequity has to end, especially given the high numbers of people in work in Reading, who would benefit from more convenient appointment times.’

Ms Sira added: ‘It is surprising in an age where online bookings are commonplace for holidays, the cinema, or school dinners, that this technology is not being used much in local GP surgeries – so we would welcome steps to improve this.’

In response to the findings, NHS officials responsible for primary care services in Reading, told Healthwatch Reading they were going to produce an action plan on increasing online appointment booking. They were also going to encourage smaller surgeries to work together to jointly offer extended hours to patients.

Based on information provided by surgeries, Healthwatch Reading calculated:

  • 5 surgeries offer pre-booked appointments every Saturday morning
  • 2 surgeries offer Saturday mornings three times per month, alternating between each other’s sites
  • 10 surgeries offer Saturday morning pre-bookable appointments on alternate Saturdays; 3 of these alternated between main and branch sites
  • 8 surgeries offer Saturday mornings less regularly, such as once per month
  • 1 surgery offers up to 5 days of early morning pre-booked appointments per week (from 7am)
  • 2 surgeries offer 2 days of early morning appointments per week
  • 3 surgeries offer 1 day of early morning appointments per week
  • 1 surgery offered 3 days of early morning appointments per week (but did not offer any Saturday appointments)
  • 14 surgeries offer 1 day of late evening appointments per week (e.g. up to 8.30pm); 3 of these said they rotated the day for maximum flexibility for patients
  • 7 surgeries offer 2 days of late evening appointments per week

Selection of patient comments:

‘Didn’t know you could book online. Usually takes 10 minutes to get through on the phone.’

‘I love this surgery – if only they would answer the phone.’

‘It would be better if they were open at the weekends, especially Saturday, I have to book time off work to come during the week.’

‘My partner works in London so struggles to make it back [in time for an appointment]. Would be nice if one evening they opened late.’

‘It really does matter to see the same doctor who knows a patient – it is the personal side that matters. If not [able to offer the same GP, the different doctor] should read patient notes beforehand.’ (Patient seeing 4th different doctor in six weeks)

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