The council’s Health Scrutiny Panel is due to discuss the findings of a recent telephone survey carried out across the 56 GP practices in the city to find out how easy it was to get a doctor’s appointment.
Conducted by Healthwatch Wolverhampton between May 18 and June 1, the survey used standard questions to check how simple it was to speak to a receptionist, book an appointment, choose telephone or face-to-face and be directed towards an appropriate service, such as a pharmacist or A&E.
The Primary Care Network’s (PCN) clinical directors were made aware of the survey so each GP practice could be given advance notice, with the report detailing the results to be presented to the council on Thursday, June 30.
A spokesman for Healthwatch Wolverhampton said: “To keep calls consistent, we introduced ourselves using the same script, confirmed that we were talking to the right practice, selected the appointment line where possible, and spoke to a receptionist – again, where possible.
“We marked calls as ‘unanswered’ if they did not pick up within an hour and if they did not want to answer our questions marked those as ‘refused’. If a receptionist passed us on to another member of staff, we noted their role.
“Out of the 56 practices, 23 refused to take part. This was largely because they were too busy, and/or did not believe – as receptionists – that they’d have the information or authority to answer our questions. Some practices were reluctant to divulge any information.”
The main findings detailed in the Healthwatch report are:
● More practices are now offering a greater variety of appointment types, particularly increasing the number of face-to-face appointments.
● More practices are offering appointment types according to patient preference, as opposed to solely allocating appointment type based on clinical need.
● More practices are signposting people to the wider healthcare network when no appointments are available, such as booking at sister sites or visiting pharmacists, opticians, and dentists. The majority still signpost people to NHS 111/A&E/urgent care centres.
● Improvements still need to be made to the quality of pre-recorded messages on call systems. In particular, all ten practices in Wolverhampton South East had neither a message explaining that patients will need to outline their symptoms nor a message asking patients to call the practice at different times for different reasons. Unity West and Unity East PCNs could also improve in this area.
● For medical practices that share a central patient phoneline, the majority were unwilling to answer questions on behalf of their sister practice. If patients are being denied information about a sister practice, it will add an additional barrier between themselves and their care.
● Some calls were cut off or took longer than an hour to be picked up, and it is likely that patients are also experiencing long waits at times, particularly in busy hours.
A report to the panel from the Black Country and West Birmingham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) added: “In October 2021 the NHS announced a plan to improve GP access across the UK and issued a £250 million winter access fund.
“Through the fund, an additional 12,000 appointments were made available to patients in Wolverhampton from January to March 2022.
“These were a mix of urgent and routine appointments to help with levels of demand, and also to tackle waiting times for routine interventions such as smear tests,” said the report.