Thursday, 22 April 2010

Inefficiency and Health Service Reform

I have never been especially opposed to reform of the health service. I can see that if you are going to provide better services with less money, things have to change. When it turned out my local GP, the Laurels PMS practice, was offering unprecedented access by opening on Saturdays and Sundays, I felt vindicated.

Then one day I phoned up for an appointment as usual. Because it was not an emergency (my little son had itchy skin), I was told in rather dismissive tones by the receptionist that I couldn’t have a slot - I would have to wait for a doctor to call me back.

Isn’t that what GPs are there for - non-emergencies? I said as much to the receptionist.

“Tell me about it,” she replied, letting out a long sigh. “I don’t know why we can’t go back to the old system. Patients are getting really annoyed.”

But things got worse. I received a letter asking me to make an appointment for a routine screening. So I called as requested. Three hours later, I was still dialling - the line was perpetually engaged. At the end of the day, I was still dialling. Three days later, I was still dialling.

It is easy to get angry with public services, and a lot of the time it is just projection. But not being able to get through to the appointments line for 48 hours? Definitely they're bad.

In the end, I had to go in person. I live close by - but if the Laurels had already been a polyclinic, serving people who live really far away? What would those people do? What if I was calling about something more serious than routine screening?

I spoke to another receptionist who is often behind the desk, a wonderfully helpful woman. Today, she seemed a little harassed.

“Everything is changing,” she said, “we’ve been taken over by a private company.’

She was apologetic about the engaged appointment line, and said the phone had been on divert by mistake, but was now fixed. Yet the next time I needed to make an appointment, I still couldn’t get through on the phone and had to go in once more, as did my partner a few days later.

The receptionist was wrong about something else. A company has taken over The Laurels, but it’s a consortium of doctors, not the private sector. It’s worrying that they can’t even answer the phone. Perhaps I am, after all, one of those people who believes our public services need protecting against so-called reform.

Varya Shaw
Green Party Candidate
West Green Ward

No comments: