The doctor will see you now – but ‘let’s get it right’

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A GP appointment system is meeting 100 per cent of patient enquiries, according to a Mid Argyll practice.

Almost six months since its introduction, a new telephone-based system has allowed Lochgilphead Medical Centre to better cope with rising demand with under-strength GP numbers.

But Lochgilphead Community Council has raised questions with the practice, claiming that a ‘small but steady’ number of people in the locality have been complaining about the system.

Lochgilphead Medical Centre introduced the new appointments process on May 29 as a way of managing increased appointment demand, tackling staff workload and alleviating workplace stress.

A full complement of doctors at the medical centre would be eight, covering a patient list of some 7,800 people spread over 500 square miles, from Kilmelford to Inveraray. With an active recruitment process under way, the number of GPs at the practice currently stands at six.

Under the new appointments system, the patient calls the practice to be asked a few details about the reason for their call (if the patient is happy to provide this). The receptionist then arranges for a GP or advanced nurse practitioner to call the patient back to discuss the problem and, if necessary, arrange an appointment.

In a letter sent in September to the Lochgilphead practice, community council convenor Andy Buntin wrote: ‘There is a fear that some older people are reluctant to discuss health matters with receptionists…and delay seeking help with ailments that may prove serious.

‘While we appreciate the difficulties facing the health service, can I ask if there are plans to have a review of the system, and if not, can we ask that this is looked at as a matter of some urgency.’

Lochgilphead Medical Practice business development manager, Alastair Turner, explained that a patient survey conducted in the first two months of the new system had revealed that just three of 52 people, or 5.76 per cent, were ‘unsatisfied’ or ‘very unsatisfied’.

He added: ‘We’re always pleased to receive feedback from our patients and where patients have specific concerns I’d like to invite them to share them in person or via our feedback and complaints systems we already have in place.’

Practice GP, Dr Rebecca Helliwell, said: ‘We’re proud of the fact that we speak to every patient on the day they call and we have same-day appointments for those that need. We do this alongside our commitment to A&E and the community hospital.

‘As a practice we’re not just adapting to protect the services we already deliver but to create a viable, vibrant practice that can do more for our patients and continue to attract quality staff to join us.

‘The package of care we provide – a life-saving A&E service in the town, local beds so people can be looked after in the community they live in, and a responsive GP service – is amongst the best in Scotland.’

Stephen Whiston, head of strategic planning and performance at Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said: ‘The future of health and social care services depends on using a wide a range of methods to support our population, including making more use of technology.

‘We also fully expect this model and type of service to expand and roll out across Argyll and Bute.’

‘At the same time we do recognise that changing the way that GP appointments are arranged can initially be unsettling for patients and it is therefore important that we continue to engage with patients and service users to help us improve services moving forward.’

‘If this is a system that might be used across Argyll and Bute, I would say it is vitally important that we get it right here in Mid Argyll,’ concluded Andy Buntin.

Continued on page 4