My tale of difficulty getting medical advice in Eastbourne

From: Paul Bundy High Street, Pevensey

Thursday, 16th September 2021, 2:44 pm

The Government is telling us repeatedly that the NHS is open for business and that we should contact our health professionals with our concerns.

The following experience is one, I am sure, many of your readers have experienced some to a lesser degree, others I suspect, have fared worse.

Between 9.12am and 10.21am I tried calling my GP practice 20 times (as evidenced by my phone log) being cut off before a connection was made.

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At 10.22am I finally got through and had to persevere through the interminable pre-recorded messages before being told I was ninth in the queue. Around 10.45am I was finally put through to a call handler at the surgery and requested a telephone consultation with my GP.

I was advised that my GP had just commenced a two-week annual holiday and so the request could not be accommodated.

Furthermore, I was advised, they were so overloaded and so short-staffed a telephone consultation that day was out of the question. I asked what my options were and whether I should attend A&E.

The call handler advised that she had no medical training and was therefore unable to give me any advice as to how I should proceed other than calling 111 and thereafter, if not satisfied with their response, to go to A&E.

I was then asked what my health concern was. I admit to responding, somewhat snippily (but not rudely or aggressively), why she was asking me such a question when she had admitted to not having any medical training.

The response to that was simply to call NHS 111 and the call was terminated.

I then spent the next 30 minutes or so writing down a detailed description of my health issues before dialling 111. Inevitably, again, one must endure the usual Covid, emergency et al, pre-recorded messages before being told that the there was a very high demand on the service, and it would take some time for a response.

Periodically pre-recorded messages were repeated including one that suggested going on-line to www.111.nhs.uk might provide a quicker answer. I decided to do this which sets you down the path of a computer-generated questionnaire dealing with stroke, heart attack, cancer etc etc without seemingly addressing anything related to my concerns. The final response from the system was to ‘speak to my GP’. Oh, good grief! I then re-dialled 111 at 11.52am and after a lengthy wait finally got through to another call handler.

In my naivety I expected to be able to read through my concerns and get to the crux of the matter. But no, how stupid of me! I was not allowed to do anything but answer with a yes or a no to another long list of very similar questions generated by her computer.

I had lost all track of time by this point but, somewhat inevitably given the train of the conversation, I was again advised I needed to speak to my GP. Aaargh.

While hearing my protestation that I had already tried this with no success, she made it clear that she would leave a message with my practice and that I should expect a call back from them within one hour and if I did not then I should call the surgery direct for advice.

Two hours later having had no response, I called the surgery going through the usual messages (to which I had now become totally deaf and tuned them out) and eventually and perhaps unfortunately, spoke to the same person I had dealt with in the morning.

I advised that 111 had told me to call back after an hour if I had not heard from the practice only to be told in very strained terms that that was not how it worked! However, after a review of their records it was confirmed, I was registered for an urgent call with a GP that afternoon. The call ended.

At approximately 3.30pm I received a call from a GP and enjoyed a very satisfactory conversation over my health concerns. All’s well that ends well except by this time my mental health probably needed some TLC as well.

It took more than six and a half hours of effort and frustration simply to obtain some medical advice. I wonder how many people would simply give up in despair.

I feel the most important element to this tale of angst is to question how on earth those who are working could have devoted the time, energy and patience, during their working day, to access medical care. They will need very tolerant employers.

Had our GPs returned to face-to-face consultations, with safeguards, as our dentists did in June last year, I wonder whether they would be in the stressed and overworked situation they complain of today.