I had a notable experience this morning. I was trying to book an appointment for my wife to be able to go and see her doctor. She was told by NHS Direct yesterday that she should call her surgery first thing (8am) to make an appointment. I called on her behalf at 7:58 (message saying surgery closed) 8:00 (same message) 8:01 (waiting on hold for about 3 minutes) and when I finally got through to someone I was told that all the appointments for today were gone and the earliest that she could see our doctor would be 8th March, i.e. nearly two and a half weeks away. After some discussion the only suitable alternative doctor was available on 1st March but that's still well over a week away. In the end the compromise was that a doctor would call my wife at some point today but that's not really a substitute for a proper consultation.
Friday, 19 February 2010
If we had been willing to classify the problem as an emergency then I expect my wife could have been seen earlier but I thought that the government had a target of all patients being seen within 48 hours if that is what they want. Perhaps I have misunderstood what this target actually means in practise?
The situation reminds me of what happened in the run up to the 2005 general election. Tony Blair was being grilled by a BBC Question Time audience and one of them raised the topic of doctor's appointments. The lady said that she could only get appointments within the next 48 hours so for example if she wanted to book one for the following week she had to wait until 48 hours before and then ring them. Blair initially seemed confused about this and suggested it could be a one off but then lots people in the audience made it clear this was a widespread problem. He promised he would sort it out.
Now what I have experienced today is a bit different to that. It is actually more like the kind of problem that Labour pledged to sort out back in 1997.
Maybe I am being unreasonable. I can imagine that trying to get appointments booked is a very difficult juggling act and the only way I can think of guaranteeing this sort of thing is to have lots of slack in the system which would then garner accusations of people being paid to do nothing! However the problem is that we were promised things a decade ago that are still not being delivered.