Getting an appointment with your GP has become increasingly difficult over the past few years. The problem however has now been brought to the attention of the Minister for health who, after calling his local surgery for an appointment following an ear infection was told that there were no free appointments until June 2015.
SHCN decided to investigate this sad state of affairs and here’s what we found.
We set about trying to make an appointment at a Doctors surgery in St Helens. We started to ring at 8am and by 9:40 we managed to get through. We were greeted on the telephone by a female receptionist that displayed the temperament of a doorman, the nonchalance of a cat and who came across as having spent 10 years in medical school herself. Her reluctance to give out appointments was as if we’d asked her to hand over her Pandora charms.
We told the receptionist that we had been advised to see the doctor as soon as possible by our dentist who had spotted something that could relate to a serious condition. We were informed that they had no free bookable appointments for 4 weeks and that we have to ring at 8am in the morning to get an appointment for that day.
We explained that we had already been trying to call from 8am that day but that the lines were busy, the receptionist told us to call again the following day at 8am. We asked if we could simply come in at 8am instead of calling but were told that we may have to wait all day for a slot and even then it isn’t guaranteed that we’d see the Doctor.
It seems the same process is used by a number of surgeries throughout the UK, Although we tried to penetrate the invisible protection that surrounds the movements of a GP we were unable to get a clear picture of what a typical GP diary would look like. From the information we gleaned however we know that on average a UK doctor spends approximately 25 hours per week seeing clients, writing out prescriptions for happy pills and generally saying “hmm”. At least 4 hours per week are spent looking at the latest Lexus and Jaguar brochures, 5 hours spent reading reviews on the latest Ping golf clubs and 2 hours pondering the Ofsted reports to check if the young ones are in the correct private school.
A further 4 hours are spent looking at villa rentals in St Lucia, 6 hours spent golfing at unknown locations and depending on which week in the month, 5 hours are spent on Masonic duties.
It’s easy to see then that your average Doctor has to be careful to filter out the time wasters, those who perhaps haven’t washed in 2 days and have accidentally fallen downstairs, Your average GP doesn’t really want those types wafting through their surgeries, nor does he want the breath of a Lambrini babe to tarnish his Rolex Submariner, such townsfolk are much better served by going to the walk in centre. They’ll still count as being registered with his practice which is kind of nice as he’ll then be able to order that new F Type, take the usual Month in the Bahamas, and afford continual Guantanamo Bay style training for his reception staff in order to keep the great unwashed at arms length.
We’ve discovered since writing this article that most GPs are actually unaware of this carry on. As far as they are aware, most people aren’t ill or in need of a Doctor. They sit about in their surgeries completely oblivious to the misdemeanours that are playing out in reception. The problems that we are all having when making an appointment seems to be due to an unnatural protective Kathy Bates style obsession that the receptionists have. They consider the GP to be their property, not to be shared by others, almost a Wizard of Oz mystical character.
We have however spoken on the phone just with a retired receptionist. It seems that there exists a secret protocol for obtaining an appointment within 24 hours and it is known to all receptionists. Simply call the surgery at any time of day, Tell them that you are accompanied by a fish and that the fish is wearing a tie, and then say that your Uncles Monkey is on the next train to Aberdeen. This is apparently a passphrase that will have you sat in front of your GP within hours. Go on, try it!