Concerns over GPs' call back system
NEW ways to make appointments have been introduced at some GP practices in South Devon.
Patients at Compass House Medical Centre, which has surgeries in Brixham and Galmpton, Barton Surgery in Torquay, Channel View Medical Practice in Teignmouth, Chudleigh and Bishopsteignton and Devon Square Surgery in Newton Abbot are now using the Doctor First scheme.
It involves patients giving basic details to staff which are then passed to GPs who prioritise callers and then contact them.
Based on the conversation and the patient's requirements, the GP will then make a judgement on if and when the patient needs to be seen.
GPs say the move has cut waiting times for patients.
But Healthwatch, the patient watchdog, said it has been contacted by some concerned patients.
Pat Harris, chief executive, said: "The main concern is that patients don't know when the doctor will get back to them.
"It is the not knowing that is most concerning and that has prompted some patients to take matters into their own hands by calling back the surgery or attending A&E.
"We are talking to GPs about those concerns and they have been very co-operative."
Some surgeries have reported that 50 per cent of patients who discussed their ailment on the phone opted not to see a GP — freeing up the GP's time to see patients with more serious concerns quickly and spend longer with them.
Lisa Cooper, practice manager at Barton Surgery, said: "We're managing the way we prioritise, making the appointment system more efficient.
"So if a person is really unwell they'll get called back first, while those who are not so serious will be called back at a time that's convenient for them.
"About 30 per cent of people who speak with a GP will come in and they are allocated the appropriate amount of time they need with the GP.
"There shouldn't be time spent waiting, because the GP will have spoken with the patient beforehand and will know the symptoms, will know how long he will need with that person, and will book them a time slot that suits their requirements."
Doctors say patients are called back at home or on a mobile number, so they are never left waiting by the home phone.
Susan Hedley, practice manager at Channel View Medical Practice, said: "We have much quieter waiting rooms, satisfied patients and less-hassled receptionists and doctors."
Practices are able to track all the calls they receive.
Detailed data-collecting enables the practice to predict peak times of call density throughout the week, and then plan around it so that the phones are adequately manned.
Mike Stewart, practice manager at Devon Square Surgery in Newton Abbot, said: "This system provides solutions for every patient and this then means our workload is more manageable and we're in control of our days and weeks.
"It supports our forward planning so that we can increase the number of clinicians available on the predicted busier days and after bank holidays."