I'm not feeling great this morning and need to make an appointment to see my GP. Unfortunately, it's not just a simple question of ringing up and being allocated a time. All appointments are now allocated on the day so you have to be on the phone at 8 am if you want to have a cat in hell's chance of getting to see the GP you want.
The first challenge is actually getting through. If you make the mistake of ringing at one second to eight, you get the out of hours message. If you ring at eight exactly, chances are that you'll get a recorded message saying "Welcome to xyz (and the recorded Stepford Woman pronounces it incorrectly too) Medical Practice. Unfortunately the surgery is experiencing high call volumes. Please call back at a less busy time."
Unfortunately, if you call back at a less busy time, chances are you simply will not get an appointment that day.
So, you keep trying to get through and eventually, you will make it to the next automated level of hell, where they imply that you are still a pain in the arse for trying to call at a busy time, but, nevertheless, they've put you in the queue. If you are really desperately needing to be seen, then the chances of you holding on for 10-15 minutes, getting to the "you are next to be answered" and then inexplicably being cut off seem to rise.
So you try again and go through the whole rigmarole. It may by now be 8.30 am. Once you've got your way to the front of the queue again, having been trying for half an hour, you then get a message saying "if this is a life threatening emergency, please press 5 on your keypad now." If it had been that bad, chances are you wouldn't have made it to hear that message.
On several occasions, after going through all of this, I've been told that there isn't an appointment for me that day and there is simply no alternative but to go through it all again the next day.
To add insult to injury, it's cost me a fortune in the process, as the surgery has an 0844 number so is not covered by most landline deals for included calls. I can live with that, even though one time last year when my husband was very ill, it cost £15 in a month trying to procure the appointments he needed as well as over £30 in prescriptions. We have a landline, though. Many people, particularly the poorest, can't afford it and are charged a fortune to call on their mobiles.
There has to be a more efficient system of ensuring the best use of GP time and making sure that access to the GP is easy and free for the patient. This is something I'm going to raise with my MSP because it's an important principle. It worries me that I might be getting an appointment at the expense of someone who needs it just as much as I do and simply can't afford to stay on the line.
Two things need to happen:
1 GPs need to be banned from using 0844 numbers
2 A more balanced and flexible appointments system needs to be in place.
Ironically, it only took 13 minutes to get through today and I had the choice of the GPs I wanted to see, so I'm off up there at 11.30.