A snapshot report has found patients have struggled to get through to GP surgeries and book appointments after a survey by Healthwatch Bolton.

It comes as Healthwatch Bolton received increased feedback from the public about difficulties accessing particular GP practices in the area of Westhoughton.

Out of a total of 44 respondents, the majority of feedback was about Unsworth Group Practice/ Peter House, but other practices across the borough were also included in the survey.

They were Bolton Medical Practice, Great Lever One, Platt House, Bromley Meadows, Halliwell Surgery, Spring View, Stonehill Medical Practice, Dr Jacobs, and Stable Fold.

The survey, run by the watchdog, received feedback from 44 people and found that 65 per cent of people said that it was not easy to get through on the phone, with around only five per cent saying they found it "very easy".

The Bolton News: The GP Access survey was created in response to patient feedback via the Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) service, community engagement and mental health charity MhIST.

The survey was promoted via social media, in the quarterly newsletter and on the website.

Specific GP practices were not targeted, although MhIST was promoting the survey through their contacts (based on the intelligence they were picking up) which is why we there is a higher number of respondents from Westhoughton.

According to the survey findings some patients said they say they are “constantly having to hang on the phone for long periods of time to get through”.


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People reported that they were told to call at 8am but found it impossible to get through, with some waiting for long periods in a queue or giving up altogether.

However someone said that it was "fairly easy" over the last couple of weeks, and another person said that they were offered a late evening and/or Saturday appointment, which was "most helpful for them".

Another said they were always offered an appointment on the day they called.

Heaton and Lostock councillor Andy Morgan, who represents the adults, health, and wellbeing area for the Conservatives, says that there are a number of reasons why some might be struggling to get through at GPs, which can include a shortage of staff and high demand.

Cllr Morgan said: “There are many reasons why it can sometimes be difficult to get through to a GP on the telephone including shortage of staff and high demand.

“Additionally, some practices may require patients to call at specific times to book appointments, which can also be inconvenient for those who work.

“More patients than ever have complex queries or require detailed assistance when trying to book appointments or discuss their healthcare needs over the phone.

The Bolton News: “Addressing these queries can take time and may contribute to delays in answering other calls.”

Some people resorted to visiting their GP practice in person because they cannot get through on the phone, only to find a queue of people waiting outside their surgery.

When asked about their experiences of using digital platforms to contact their GP, almost 30 per cent of patients surveyed overall, said they did not find it easy at all, 20 per cent said they did not find it very easy, and seven per cent said they were unable to use the platforms.

However, 25 per cent said that they found the systems fairly easy, with four per cent finding it very easy.

One person said that the digital platforms were "handy" but took away from the face to face interaction, whilst others said digital platforms were "useful" but not when booking appointments.

One patient who responded to the survey said: “It says to keep your phone with you for the next two days to await a call back, but no call is received.

“When I called in person to the surgery, I was told it would be at least 10 days.”

The Bolton News: Another patient added: “It is handy, but it takes away face to face interaction.

“With regards to our GP practice website, it is absolutely awful on every level.

“It's much easier than trying to call, however you cannot book appointments through it and have to call, unlike a previous practice I was at where I could book an appointment online for within the week.”

If people were unable to secure an appointment with their GP, the majority said they have self-cared, with some calling 111 for advice.

However, 30 per cent of people felt the need to attend A&E and 40 per cent used a pharmacy for advice.

A minority of people also travelled to an out-of-area walk-in centre.

The Bolton News: One patient who responded to the survey praised Stable Fold Surgery and said that they were always sent for further tests if applicable.

Another person said that at the surgery they go to that the staff were really helpful, with another praising staff for a "brilliant job", but unhappy with the phone system.

Cllr Morgan also says that some of the online booking systems are “not user-friendly or efficient”, which makes it difficult when trying to book appointments.

He added: “This must obviously be addressed to ensure that any digital platform is simple to use and accessible to all patients, such as the elderly and vulnerable.

“Nobody should be excluded access to services because of their age, disability, or inability to access online systems.

“Specifically with regards to Westhoughton, the huge increase in the population because of all the new housing, without considering the lack of infrastructure, including primary care services, is the issue.

“The planning process should involve comprehensive strategies that include both housing development and plan for infrastructure improvements to support the needs of residents, including primary care provision.

“I know Bolton’s Locality Board are taking GP Access very seriously and I will continue to ask that it remains at the top of the Board’s Agenda.”The Bolton News: WAITING TIMES: The NHS target has now not been met for nearly three years.In response to the survey a spokesperson from NHS Greater Manchester, said: “From a locality perspective, data on Tableau (a platform-based data analysis tool) confirms that there are access issues across Bolton practices with some PCNs performing better than others.

“The locality primary care contracts and commissioning team has commenced a piece of work, using data at practice level from GP Patient Survey, friends and family test, complaints, incidents, enhanced access monitoring, Bolton Quality Contract, and access audits etc, to provide a fuller picture of access across PCNs and to identify those practices who require additional support.

“Specifically, we are aware that Unsworth Group Practice (Peter House Surgery) has been experiencing issues in offering the level of access to appointments that we would expect to see for patients, and, as a result, we have been actively working with the practice since last September to improve this.”

Some of the steps Unsworth Group/Peter House has already put in place are detailed below:

• The practice offers a range of appointments for patients – routine and urgent and offer these on a 50:50 split

• These appointments are offered on both a face to face and telephone basis

• Requests for appointments by third parties are assessed by the duty doctor who will determine the need for an appointment based on clinical need.

• The practice allows for booking of appointments up to six weeks in advance especially for long term condition reviews and aging well clinics etc.

• The practice has also acknowledged that it has received negative feedback in relation to the employed reception staff and as a result, has undertaken a training programme to retrain all patient facing staff in customer service skills.

• While this programme is still underway, the practice has further committed to ensuring that this improves by appointing an external staff member to oversee management of the reception area

Healthwatch Bolton have given the following recommendations:

• We recommend that action is taken to address/improve the issues with the telephone system, increase the availability of appointments with clinicians and increase the levels of practice staff.

• We recommend that GP practices have a form of words on their website/on notice boards in the surgery stating the reason(s) why it is taking longer for people to access a GP appointment.

• We recommend having some simple information available to patients, to explain some of the future plans to recover and improve access to primary care (the primary care delivery plan).

• We recommend including stakeholders to promote the Get to Know Where to Go information for patients and the public.

• This can be included on GP practice/pharmacy notice boards for patients who are not tech savvy.

If you have a story and something you would like to highlight in the community, please email me at jasmine.jackson@newsquest.co.uk or DM me on Twitter @JournoJasmine.