Patients’ rights being eroded in Redbridge claim

Patients’ choice between telephone or face-to-face GP appointments has been “eroded completely” in Redbridge, the borough’s health watchdog has warned.

Since the pandemic began, many GP surgeries have used a ‘telephone triage’ system, offering patients a call from a doctor to avoid them coming in.

However, Healthwatch Redbridge is concerned that surgery staff are “gatekeeping” face-to-face appointments, making it difficult for patients with hearing problems to access the surgery.

Healthwatch Redbridge chief executive Cathy Turland said: “There is a gatekeeping aspect from staff answering phones, that you do not get face-to-face, you get telephone appointments first, you are triaged first.

“For a lot of disabled people it is not accessible – deaf people continuously being told ‘this is the only route in that we will allow’.

“From our perspective, patient choice has been eroded completely and that’s what we’re hearing from everyone.”

Ms Turland added that Healthwatch’s priority is to improve services not to criticise GPs, who have had a “terrible couple of years”.

The debate came during a Health and Wellbeing Board meeting on Monday June 20, bringing together representatives from local health services, Healthwatch Redbridge and Redbridge Council.

Councillors expressed disbelief when Sarah See, director of primary care transformation at BHR integrated partnership, said face-to-face consultations now make up 70 per cent of GP surgery appointments.

She added that telephone or ‘e-consult’ appointments, which require internet access, work “for some people” but accepted that there “does need to be a balance”.

Councillor Zulfiqar Hussain said he was “totally baffled” by the claim that 70% of appointments are face-to-face, following his personal experience at a surgery in Ilford.

He added: “[Sending pictures online] is not possible for the majority of residents where I live, they may not have access to a smartphone and it’s so hard to get through.”

Cllr Sahdia Warraich added: “It seems to have got worse for local residents – it was bad before but seems to be getting worse.

“When people go to their GP practices, it doesn’t look like many people are there, it has deteriorated quite dramatically.

“When is it going to be business back as normal? It doesn’t feel like things are getting back to where they were as such.”

Dr Haq, a GP from Barking & Dagenham, said she uses e-consult and refers patients directly to pharmacists to reduce pressure from patients because she is “burned out” due to a shortage of doctors.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter