Difficulties accessing primary care services, including long waits for appointments with General Practitioners (GPs), is something that has been highlighted locally and nationally. It was the highest concern raised in our ‘Make Your Voice Count’ surveys of over 1,000 members of the public of Northamptonshire during the last two years (Autumn 2013 and Autumn-Winter 2014).
In April 2014 Healthwatch Northamptonshire, the independent consumer champion for people using health and social care, talked to patients using the Accident and Emergency Department (A&E) at Northampton General Hospital (NGH) over a two week period. We wanted to find out whether people had tried to use other services, instead of going to A&E. 1 in 5 (20%) of the people we spoke to said they had attended A&E at NGH because they were unable to see a GP (General Practitioner) when they needed to. Healthwatch England’s summary of research from across the local Healthwatch network has also identified that 1 in 5 patients faced with long waiting times to see their GP are going to A&E instead.
To find out more about the issues we visited 25 GP practices across the county and spoke to 234 patients about their experiences of booking GP appointments, communicating with staff, receiving treatment, their thoughts on the good aspects of service at their practice and their concerns. We also spoke to the practice managers to find out more about how their practice works, what they thought worked well and their views on the challenges faced. We were also very fortunate to work with a Deaf man who did some “mystery shopping” at 5 of the GP practices, to assess how accessible primary care is for Deaf patients.
This report gives an overview of the findings from all 25 practices, highlighting trends in patient experience, good practice and areas of improvement. This report will be shared with GP practices and commissioners of primary care with a request for responses to the recommendations.
- Nearly one fifth of people (19%) said it was ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to get an appointment when they needed one. 58% of people in our survey found it ‘easy’ or ‘very easy’ to get an appointment when they needed.
- Some common themes emerged from peoples’ comments about their good or bad experiences of getting an appointment, highlighting what matters most to patients.
- Nearly a quarter of people said they wanted to see a GP of their choice but were not able to.
- Insufficient funding for additional GPs and not being able to recruit them is an area of concern for the practice managers we spoke to.