Changes to the appointment system at Church Lane Surgery
As some of you will have already experienced, we have made some changes to the way we manage appointments at the surgery. We thought it might be helpful to explain these changes, and why we've made them.
Like many GP surgeries in the UK the last few years have been difficult for staff and patients alike – as the pandemic, and the changes advised by the Government as a result of it – have completely altered how people use the surgery, and what they expect from us. We know that some patients would like things to return to how they were before – almost exclusively face to face appointments, with doctors they know well, acknowledging that there may be a wait for this. Others however clearly prefer the changes that resulted from the pandemic, being able to get advice quickly – face to face, over the phone or electronically – and are less concerned with who they see so long as they get some sort of response that day. Demand for appointments is higher than ever, a problem exacerbated by the current long waiting times as our hospital colleagues work hard to clear their waiting lists after the pandemic.
It has been an immense challenge trying to juggle these conflicting needs. We're not alone in this – we know that waiting times to see a GP are very long in some GP surgeries throughout the country, and for many patients the idea of being able to see "their" GP is also a thing of the past. We are keen to try and avoid this happening here – but if anything, the challenge in Boroughbridge is greater than most. Whilst all surgeries are struggling, our rates of consultation are much higher than the majority. The number of times one of our patients comes to the surgery is 50% higher than the national average. (In other words, for every 2 appointments a patient books in another surgery, one of our patients will book three.)
For this reason we have discussed at length how we might try to manage this level of demand whilst still somehow trying to offer both an urgent service for those that require it, and some continuity for those who prefer it.
In some ways very little has changed. You can still call the surgery to arrange a routine appointment, and if there's an urgent problem you can still call to be seen the same day if necessary. However, your experience of this may be slightly different depending upon why you've called.
Firstly, when you call, our receptionists may ask you a little more about your health problem. This is to allow them to use a computer algorithm that will help them ascertain what the most appropriate appointment for you will be. Our receptionists are bound by the same rules of confidentiality as the doctors and nurses. The system has been reviewed by our own GPs, to ensure it is safe and that we are confident in it – it is less strict than many used nationally.
Using this system not just helps the receptionist to ascertain whether or not your problem needs urgent attention, it also helps them identify occasions where someone other than a doctor might be more appropriate – so sometimes they will direct you to a nurse, physiotherapist, pharmacist, paramedic, eye specialist, social prescriber, or to the local chemist. If you don’t feel these options are appropriate an appointment with a doctor can still be made – but it may not be as quick, or as suitable.
Please note the receptionist will use the same system no matter how you approach the practice – be it telephone, online, or as a walk in.
The second significant difference is with respect to problems deemed to be urgent. We are now using the area above the dispensary as an "Urgent Hub". This will be staffed by several doctors tasked with managing everyone who is found to have an urgent same day need. They will have a list of patients to phone or see face to face in the hub directly, once they have been allocated there by the receptionist.
Patients attending (or calling) the Urgent Hub will not be able to request a specific GP, but will be seen as soon as possible. Face to face patients will be asked to wait, and will be seen on a first come first served basis. This means there may be a wait depending upon how many other people have also called – we advise bringing a book!
Again, its worth stressing that this is NOT a walk-in service. You will need to contact the surgery to book an appointment in the normal way, and will then be directed to the Urgent Care Hub if appropriate.
More routine appointments will be seen in the surgery as normal. If you call the surgery needing an appointment for which you are happy to wait – for instance a routine review - please let the receptionist know, as this frees up the limited number of "in week" appointments available to them to use with others. (We acknowledge some problems aren't urgent for the same day, but would benefit from a review sooner rather than later). This also makes it easier to ensure you're seen by the doctor of your choice.
In conclusion then, we have made some simple changes that we hope will mean our patients continue to feel that they have an excellent service from the surgery, whilst making sure that you are seen by the right people, at the right time, for the right thing – whilst hopefully ensuring the surgery remains sustainable for the future.