Havering healthcare watchdog calls for end to “mad rush” for GP appointments

Havering GPs must end the “mad rush” to get an appointment by telephoning at 8am, the borough’s healthcare watchdog has said.

Local volunteers for Healthwatch surveyed 45 GP practices and found patients are being kept on hold for long periods, with no guarantee of an appointment.

The “first come, first served” system risks patients in urgent need of treatment being “rejected”, they told the Health Overview & Scrutiny Sub-Committee on September 22

The watchdog’s report says: “Not only is there a risk of delayed diagnosis and treatment, but it is also incredibly stressful for patients who are unwell to have an almost mad rush at 7.59am to wait for sometimes up to three hours for an answer, then be told they must do the same the next day.”

Volunteers were offered face-to-face consultations in 20 cases, but four practices refused completely and gave no time frame for their return. Not all practices answered the phone, even after several calls.

Waits for appointments varied, with practices needing more than three weeks in 17 per cent of cases, one to three weeks in 13 per cent of cases and less than a week in 52 per cent of cases.

One third of practices had at least a week to wait for an appointment with another third of callers having to wait fewer than three days.

The report also warns of “digital exclusion” for patients lacking the IT skills help their doctor diagnose problems

An 87-year-old widower, whose identity is being protected, told surveyors she had waited more than six weeks to get treatment for dry, purple patches spreading on her legs.

Once her son helped her send the practice a photograph, she was sent compression stockings in the mail, which she may not be able to put on herself.

An 82-year-old disabled man told Healthwatch the earliest appointment for pressure sores and a fungal infection on his foot was in 26 days.

He said: “Fortunately, I have an alternative option to get professional medical examination before my foot infection is left to fester for 26 days.”

The report calls for extra surgery sessions to be added when backlogs arise and for GPs at hubs and walk-in clinics to be able to refer patients directly to specialists. 

At the Outer North East London Joint Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee in June this year, North East London CCG chair Dr Jagan John admitted there is a lot of “confusion” in the system over what services are face-to-face now.

He added: “We need to do a collective effort across the whole of North East London so that patients understand what the offer is and how they can access healthcare in general and the wider system.”

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter