Phone access to Luton doctors surgeries ‘worst in country’, say patients

GP surgery
GP surgery

Measures are being taken to improve access to Luton GPs, after a survey labelled the town as one of the worst areas in England for seeing your doctor.

Just over half the residents questioned in Luton described ‘getting through to someone at your GP practice on the phone’ as “not easy”.

The 51 per cent figure for the town compared with one in three or 32 per cent nationally.

“Luton had the worst response to this across England,” according to a report to the borough council’s scrutiny health and social care review group.

There were 10,714 surveys sent to residents in the town, of which 2,755 were returned.

Concerns raised about GP access included: “There is no availability”, “I cannot get an appointment” and “Waiting times are long”.

Luton Clinical Commissioning Group and its health partners have been working to improve access to GP services across the town, said the report.

These measures include:

> GP extended access;

> direct bookings into GP services;

> the Luton urgent treatment centre (UTC);

> direct bookings into children’s rapid response clinics;

> and an urgent GP clinic.

Despite efforts to increase capacity and access to GP surgeries, “the perception remains negative which is disappointing”, explained the report.

“We are aware of access issues with some practices and we are targeting these at an individual level, as well as working with the primary care networks to support wider solutions.”

The CCG says it plans to increase capacity and access to GPs, and continue to highlight the different ways of obtaining healthcare.

Labour South councillor David Agbley told the review group: “When the news broke my phone didn’t stop ringing.

“People were calling me saying it is your responsibility to make sure this is scrutinised properly,” he said.

“Out there, people can’t get appointments. People are living with pains, they tell me.

“Residents are saying: ‘We’re being vindicated. That Luton is the worst place to be when it comes to healthcare, and this is typical.

“That image we had before needs to change,” added councillor Agbley, who chairs the review group.

“We need to move to a situation where Luton residents are provided with the best healthcare service, and I don’t think this is happening.

“It’s like everything about Luton, in terms of healthcare and social care, is always the worst.”

CCG chief operating officer Nicky Poulain said: “A lot of this is actually not having enough telephone lines for people to answer it.

“And it’s not good enough. You’re absolutely right.

“The message is if you can’t get through on the telephone, there is an alternative.

“The bit that’s awful is that the access to the telephone isn’t working.

“My role is to work with GP practices and hold them to account so the telephone is answered, and they have to answer it within a minute.

“We are trying to give people choice and simplicity.”

Luton has two hubs delivering extended access appointments for routine, planned and urgent appointments, seven days a week, added the report.

“The hubs are at the Medici Medical Centre and the Gardenia Surgery and are accessed via patients’ own GP practice or by calling 111.

“Practices continue to offer extended hours within their own GP surgery.”

The Luton UTC is based at the town centre sugery in Chapel Street.

It manages direct bookings from the 111 service from 8am to 8pm, and treats patients who self-present from 8am to 6pm.

Children under five-years-old can be directly booked into a children’s rapid response clinic via 111.

The service is delivered from the treatment centre at Vestry Close.

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