Improving Access to a Doctor

A number of local residents have contacted me to express their anger, upset and frustration at not being able to get access to see a Doctor like they used to. Here’s what I’ve been doing to try to improve access for you and your families…

As a Councillor my role mainly relates to the way that the Council itself operates. At the ‘macro’ level I can contribute to the development of policies and initiatives that are intended to improve the life of local people across the borough – the economy, education, etc. At the ‘micro’ level I can take on individual cases where the Council needs to deal with something specific, like a wonky paving stone, an overgrown grass verge or a controversial planning application. However, people often ask me to support with other things too, acting in a sideways manner to influence other public bodies, such as the Police or the NHS.

That’s excatly what I’ve found myself doing over the last few weeks in response to a number of local people contacting me quite frankly at the end of their tether. We all know that covid pandemic was incredibly distruptive to all of our lives. We also know that healthcare settings in particular needed to take extra precautions. However, it seems that some of our local surgeries and health centres have changed their working practices in quite unhelpful ways. I’m aware of course that our local GPs are working very long hours, and I’m incredibly grateful for the care that they provide*. Solving the shortage of doctors however is way beyond the role of a local councillor. What I can do, and what I have promised to do, is to listen to residents and to help them get their voice heard by people with power to make improvements to the system locally.

The main frustration people have expressed to me is the inability to do one simple thing: to make an appointment to see a doctor. They have told me that they have rung their surgery more than 20 or 30 times, day after day, without getting through. Many have been placed in the plainly ridiculous position of having to attend their GP practice in person, just to stand in line to speak to a receptionist, so that they can book a telephone appointment! Only after this telephone appointment has taken place (which could be a week later) might they get invited for a face to face appointment, which could be another week, or two later! Such delays quite frankly pose a risk to public health.

I want to assure residents that I have raised this issue with people in senior health positions right across the borough and stressed that things must improve. I’ve made sure that the Mayor knows about it too, and the Director of Public Health, and the Council Chief Executive. We discussed together it in a meeting that took place on Tuesday, at which one of the most senior executives from North Tyneside CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group – the body who funds the surgeries) was also present. She described to me a number of initiatives they are taking to help local practices to improve. This included very practical steps such as getting surgeries to install additional phone lines to create capacity due to single phone lines being permanently engaged. She was also unequivocal in stating that if a patient feels that they require a face to face appointment then they should be provided with one, not fobbed off with a telephone appointment.

Finally, here’s 3 things you can do if you have struggled to access a doctor and need to tell someone about your experience…

* I really do mean this and am under no illusions about the way that the Tory government has been underfunding Primary Care, along with the rest of the NHS, for many years.

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