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GP appointments survey results

by adamboyden on 24 February, 2018

As you may know, in November Frome Medical Practice changed their GP appointment system. After we heard some concerns, we launched a survey to ask people if they were satisfied or not and why (see the original article and link to survey here). We had over 250 responses online and several in writing. In summary:

12% of respondents were satisfied – patients who have been able to get same day appointments or advice, and prefer not having to wait weeks to see their GP, or hours in the walk in clinic. We understand that the new system has significantly reduced missed appointments and ‘unnecessary’ appointments where people should see a different health professional or receive verbal advice rather than their GP. 20% are neutral or see both the pros and cons.

66% of responses were from people unsatisfied with the system. The biggest issues are that busy working people who are not ill enough to be off work, are having difficulties both with having to be available to see their GP the same day, with an inability to make most appointments in advance, and with taking a callback while at work, for various reasons. Some people have had real trouble making an appointment at all. Other issues are: long waiting times on the phone when initially calling in (which we understand FMP are addressing), concerns about the reliance on telephone diagnoses, on divulging information to Care Navigators, and that some people with mental health / anxiety issues are finding it more stressful.

Frome FM’s Doc Miller’s Medical Hour radio programme on 22nd February focused on the issues raised by the survey with a discussion with Chris Simpson (Chair of the Patient Participation Group), and John Killah, who put many of the questions we raised to Dr Miller, and you can hear the programme here.

So, there are clear benefits in the new system, but also ‘side effects’. This is what over 250 people have told us – ‘thank you’ to everyone who responded. We do recognise the limitations of the survey, as the Practice has around 30,000 patients, and the survey was conducted over a period affected by winter ‘flu (with more patients trying to make an appointment, and a number of GPs off sick). However, we hope it was useful. As the survey identified problems, we discussed the issues with Frome Medical Practice, sent them a draft report, and have asked the Practice to consider the results and see what they can do to improve the system for patients who are having difficulties with it. The survey remains open here – The draft report of the survey is available to download here (FMP GP Survey Report Draft v3) and will be updated in future to include or reflect any feedback from the Practice.

Of course, the changes have been made due to the strain on the GP service, with a national and local GP shortage (due at least in part to GPs retiring, or otherwise leaving the country or the profession, and not being replaced), and NHS underfunding that is just not keeping pace with demand (see a Kings Fund report here, and the Lib Dems report here. Over the last 5 years, Somerset CCG has seen a 25% reduction in the number of GPs, and a 17% increase in demand for primary care. The Government knows about this full well and is just not addressing it.

We must emphasise that Frome Medical Practice is an ‘outstanding’ surgery, which has led the groundbreaking ‘Compassionate Frome’ and Health Connections Mendip initiative which has been recently highlighted in The Guardian and the Resurgence & Ecologist journal. This aims to tackle loneliness and isolation in patients by offering a free health and wellbeing support to patients, where Health Connectors connect people to free and low-cost local services, such as exercise classes and support groups, and has significantly reduced emergency hospital admissions. This is simply excellent work which has been led by the Practice with the support of Frome Town Council and local volunteers including Active and In Touch. Building a more compassionate community benefits people’s health, and reduces costs for the NHS. I would like to see significant praise for everyone involved in that. To get connected to Health Connections please see here. This should be national policy – for community rebuilding, as well as improving our health – and Government health and loneliness Ministers should come and see what they can learn from how it’s done in Frome.

This issue was highlighted in an ITV West Country news report aired on Wednesday 21st February, when reporter Ben McGrail interviewed me along with two patients and Dr Taylor from the Practice. A BBC Somerset radio programme also featured the issue on 5th February with Simon Parkin interviewing me and Dr Miller (listen here, item starts 1 hr 11 min and runs to 1 hr 29 mins). Frome FM’s Doc Miller’s Medical Hour also focused on the issue on 22nd February with a discussion with Chris Simpson (Chair of the Patient Participation Group), and John Killah, who put many of the questions we raised to Dr Miller.  You can hear the programme here It is worth listening to in full.  Frome Times has also covered this issue here. We hope to meet the Practice again in the next few weeks to discuss the findings and how they can improve the service.

Cllr Adam Boyden, and Drew Gardner, Frome Liberal Democrats

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