This site is intended for health professionals only

Have you tried to get through to another public service recently?

If you’ve tried getting through to any public service, you’ll know that there are so many hoops to jump through, options to select and, even when you feel like you know the menu like a Russian cyber-spy, the refrain of recorded music while you wait to converse with an advanced biped of the species homosapiens can seem interminable.

Where are all the people? We keep being told we’re more populus in the UK than ever before, but in services where you need actual people, they’ve vanished.

Imagine if this applied routinely to something that really matters to you, that you really care about, that you feel is fundamental and you begin to see more clearly the public frustration with access to health. We’re in a very bad place at the moment.

There’s too much shouting from very deep trenches. Of course, those of us on the inside simply can’t understand why patients and often hospital doctors can’t see how hard we’re working.

However, as with all conflict resolution, there has to be some acknowledgement of the other perspective before forward steps can be taken.

The blackly humorous moments shared by many GPs on social media detailing patients facing them and saying: ‘When are you going to start seeing patients face to face again’ should be more properly interpreted as meaning: ‘When are you going to start allowing us to book our own face-to-face appointments?’

What they want and need is agency. The communication on our behalf has been terrible, but realistically no person holding a Government-facing post in a public body is going to openly say: ‘Online interaction is what your Government has invested in because they have decided that individualised care is far too expensive, and, by the way, those of you who voted for them are the most vocal in complaining’.

They can’t say this, but they could have said something much more like it, more bravely. I think we have to remember that illness is frightening to people, and if they feel that they don’t have control over getting any help with it from the usually so amenable, kind and open GPs, there will be huge disquiet. So, if you haven’t yet gone back to direct booking of telephone and face-to-face appointments, perhaps it’s time to seriously think about it.

Dr Charlotte Alexander is a GP in Surrey


Dylan Summers 30 June, 2022 8:23 am

This all sounds reasonable, but I think Charlotte is offering a false dichotomy:

“Either use digital triage or invite patients to freely book appointments”

This is not the choice many surgeries face. The choice many surgeries looks more like:

“Either use digital triage or force patients to queue on the phone for appointments at 8AM which are all gone by the time their call is answered”

David Mummery 30 June, 2022 10:09 am

Great piece Charlotte! – totally agree

Decorum Est 1 July, 2022 3:53 pm

‘I think we have to remember that illness is frightening to people….’

I think most GPs are all to aware of this and there is nothing wrong with their memories and moreover most of us don’t crave a system like exists in USA where illness can cause personal/family bankruptcy. But FATPOA and the demands from GBP (inc the medico-legal industry), HMG, HSE, NICE, GMC etc have become overwhelming to the service providers (I.e. GPs and their team colleagues). It’s time to have some sort of charge (and respect) for medical services.

Sam Macphie 6 July, 2022 2:20 pm

A start might be just answer the phone to patients within 10 rings (reasonably professionally where health is concerned)
and don’t have a long recorded message or a long series of recorded diversions to other agencies which would not be ethical.