One in five patients is still finding it difficult to get a convenient appointment to see their GP, a new Which? survey can reveal.
Our poll of more than 2,000 people found that 20% said it was fairly or very difficult to get an appointment to suit their needs.
Our survey also revealed that getting an appointment when needed is people’s top health priority, while making evening or weekend appointments with a GP is also important to consumers.
In 2005 the appointment system at Mckenzie House GP surgery in Hartlepool was criticised by a local health watchdog.
When we asked the watchdog to return in October 2007 to see whether appointments had improved, it found more than 20 people queuing outside at 8.30am on a cold Monday.
They included a disabled man on crutches and another man who was queuing on behalf of his 94-year-old grandmother who was trying to keep warm in his car.
A local resident told Which?: ‘You can’t get through on the phone and, when you do, there are no appointments for days… There aren’t any other surgeries in the area, so the choice is: take it or leave it.’
Which? thinks that people should have clear, readily available information about the healthcare options in their communities, such as walk-in centres or community pharmacies, so they can choose the best service for their needs.
A straightforward guide to making the right local healthcare choices is available on our health campaigns page.
Which? Editor Neil Fowler said: ‘People’s top health priority is simple – to get a GP appointment when they need one. Getting an appointment in the evening or at the weekend is also high on their agenda, which might be because they find it hard to get to the GP’s surgery during normal working hours.
‘The UK government says it’s working towards giving us more local healthcare choices, but it’s important that people know what’s on offer and when it’s available, so that choice becomes a reality.’
If you’re unhappy with your healthcare provider, take a look at our guide to making a complaint.
Tips on making the best healthcare choices
Get clued up
Check out which services are local before you need them, and have out-of-hours information to hand. Use libraries, service directories – such as Thomson – and websites to find the primary care trust or health board organising NHS services in your area
Challenge yourself as you make health choices: for example, could you see someone other than the GP or avoid accident and emergency?
Talk – or write – to a member of staff, such as the practice manager at your GP’s surgery. You may feel more at ease taking someone with you
Take it further
If you can’t resolve the problem, consider making a complaint to the NHS organisation. You normally have six months to register your complaint orally or in writing – this can be waived if there are good reasons
In England, NHS foundation trusts have their own procedures and will advise you on how to complain. For complaints advice in England contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Services or Independent Complaints and Advocacy Service
In Northern Ireland speak to the Northern Ireland Health and Social Services Council
In Scotland contact Citizens Advice
In Wales, go to your local community health council