When people have a health concern, their first point of contact for support will usually be a GP, a pharmacist or another primary care service, so it’s vital that help is available when they need it.
Over the past year, we received more feedback about primary care than about any other type of service. Although most people are satisfied with their GPs, dentists and pharmacists, we have heard there is still room for improvement.
1. Difficulty accessing services
In some areas of the country, booking an appointment to see a GP or an NHS dentist can be a significant challenge. People told us they struggle to get a same day appointment and even advance slots can be booked up for months.
Poor access to primary care services has a knock-on effect, as long waits to be seen by a doctor or dentist can prevent people from receiving the right diagnosis, treatment and even referral to specialist services.
When people don’t receive support early, their condition can get worse and they might need emergency care, which puts a strain on A&E services.
“I can never get an appointment. You can only get one for the day you ring, if you ring at 8am, and if you’re not through by 8:05am then you won’t get one. Waste of time. I don’t really bother unless it’s for the children. I can understand why people go to A&E instead and have every sympathy for them.”
Patient story shared with Healthwatch Bradford
2. Patients aren’t getting the information they need
People told local Healthwatch that they can find it difficult to access the right support because they receive inconsistent information from services. For example, those without proof of address have told us it can be a challenge to register with a GP surgery.
Similarly, patients miss out on important information, such as details about opening times and how to give feedback, when services don’t provide up-to-date details online. Some GP surgeries have introduced online booking for appointments but, according to the most recent GP patient survey, only 36% of people are aware it is available. People want to manage their health, but poor communication between staff and patients can be a barrier. In serious cases this has led to patients receiving unclear instructions about how to take their medication.
“My father was diagnosed with dementia last July by his GP and given tablets… I found it very isolating as the GP didn’t explain to me that they were starting on a low dose of tablets that would then be upped.”
Patient story shared with Healthwatch Wiltshire