CAMPAIGNERS have called for the way doctors’ appointments are made to be radically changed.
Dewsbury-based Healthwatch Kirklees found many residents struggle to see a GP when they are ill.
Gripes include having to repeatedly call at 8am, only to find all appointments for that day are already gone when they eventually get through.
A lack of evening slots and receptionists assessing how unwell someone is before allocating an appointment are other complaints.
Healthwatch Kirklees called for the system to be overhauled as it puts extra pressure on hospitals.
Policy advisor Clare Costello said: “People who are genuinely unwell are being turned away from their own GP surgery.
“They then often go to a walk-in centre or A&E, which puts more pressure on these over-stretched services.
“We want to work with NHS managers, patients and carers to look at how we can improve access to GP appointments.”
One model which Healthwatch Kirklees found patients seem to like is on trial at the Greenway Medical Practice in Cleckheaton.
Called Doctor First, it started last April and has seen complaints about the availability of appointments fall.
Healthwatch Kirklees also believe online booking systems and text and email reminders, as happens at some dentists, may also help.
Changes to GP contracts in 2014/15 mean the use of such ideas is likely to increase.
Jackie Holdich, head of practice support for the North Kirklees Clinical Commissioning Group, welcomed the report.
She said: “We’re committed to working with Healthwatch Kirklees to see how we can improve access to GP services in our area.”
Comments by patients to Healthwatch Kirklees about problems making an appointment included:
“They ask you to ring from 8.30am but the phone is always engaged. When you do get through all the appointments are gone.”
“The receptionists have told me what medication to try and say if things get no better to ring back.”
“I try to get late appointments as I work full-time but I can’t get one for a week.”
“Trying to book ahead to see a doctor who has asked you to come back is not an option.”
How ‘Doctor First’ has worked...
AN APPOINTMENT system on trial in Cleckheaton has seen a reduction in complaints from patients.
The Greenway Medical Practice on Greenside started using what is known as a ‘Doctor First’ service last April.
It is a telephone ‘triage’ system in which a doctor calls patients back at home in order of clinical priority, usually within two hours.
If necessary an appointment can be made for the same day or at a time of the patient’s choosing.
Doctors can also vary the appointment length depending on the severity of any symptoms. And a specific GP can be named to handle the case throughout to ensure continuity of care.
Greenway is thought to be the only GP surgery using this kind of appointment system in Kirklees.
It has led to fewer complaints and a reduction in patients going to hospitals or walk-in centres.
Dr Andrew Cameron, of Greenway, said: “It’s a means of getting a prompt assessment from a doctor.
“The patient’s problem is dealt with in the most appropriate time frame and setting. The response on the whole has been favourable.”