GP access still a problem for people in Walsall

Frustrated patients are still struggling to see their GPs across Walsall with demand for appointments higher than ever.

Walsall Council
Walsall Council

Members of a social care and health scrutiny panel told NHS they were still inundated with residents raising the issue, which has intensified since the Covid pandemic.

They said people complain about not being able to get through to make an appointment, being unable to book slots when they walk into practices or being denied contact by receptionists who point them elsewhere for treatment.

The issue has been growing for the past year or so but, despite assurances, councillors said residents’ were still experiencing problems.

Andy Russ, of the Black Country Integrated Care Board, told Thursday’s (September 29) meeting said Walsall provided the highest number of face to face GP appointments in the Black Country.

He added a number of initiatives to improve access to doctors were in the process of being implemented.

Committee chairman Khizar Hussain said: “People are still saying to us it’s very difficult to see their doctor or to even contact their GP.

“We all share a desire to see improvements in this area. But this is still coming repeatedly to us. People tell us when they ask for face to face appointments, they are told they are not available.”

Blakenall ward councillor Pete Smith said: “My personal experience with my particular GP is excellent and I have no complaints whatsoever. But maybe I’m coloured by the experiences people have got in the Blakenall area.

“My GP is in another part of the town and I’m happy but I wish I could say the same with the Blakenall practice.

“Who makes the decision on whether they should be face to face or digital appointments?

“I think it should be the patient but it seems to me they are the last person who gets to make that decision.”

Councillor Vera Waters added she had been told people, when they finally got through to receptionists on the phone were being told they couldn’t have face to face appointments and instead advised to go to the urgent treatment centre at Walsall Manor’s A&E.

And Councillor Ram Mehmi added he was finding people who visited practices in person were also unable to get appointments, even one or two weeks into the future.

Among the improvements being made are an improved telephony system to make it easier for patients to get through to practices.

Also, from next month, enhanced access including evening and Saturday opening hours will come into effect.

Mr Russ said: “Demand for primary care appointments is as high as it’s ever been. In all but one of the months in 2022 there has been a higher level of appointments compared to 2021. Pre-Covid in 2019, all six months this year have been higher.

“It’s correct to get the right balance between face to face and virtual appointments.

“GPs are very aware of health inequalities in the population and how those people with long term conditions are the ones struggling to access their GPs They want to target those people in health inequality groups.

“There is variation in the way GP practices are providing access to appointments, we know that.

“There are major work force issues, different practices at different times have issues and can find it difficult to provide the access they would like to.”

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