'Phoning our surgery is like Russian roulette'

More than 330 people answered our survey about what it's like to phone their doctor's surgery.
Photo of woman with children on phone from Unsplash

Local people have expressed deep frustration about difficulties getting hold of their GP surgery, according to findings of our new survey. 

Getting to speak to a receptionist to book an appointment was like ‘Russian roulette’, people told us.

We ran our online survey from 25 March-25 April 2021 and are presenting the findings to local councillors and health leaders at a meeting in public on 16 July 2021.

One of the most stinging criticisms came from an NHS hospital worker who answered our survey and told us about problems getting a GP appointment for their child:

‘I am a frontline NHS worker in a hospital and have worked throughout the pandemic. I have seen patients face-to-face, spoken kindly to them and made sure they could still access care…. I cannot understand for what reason GPs are not allowing patients to pre-book appointments anymore and are still refusing to see patients face-to-face for thorough assessments. This wall of obstruction is appalling...’

The problem has been compounded by many surgeries switching off their online appointment booking systems, not allowing people to book routine appointments in advance and requiring people to call at 8am to try and book an appointment.

Key survey findings

  • 54% of the 339 respondents told us they found it difficult to get through to their GP surgery on the phone, compared to 34% of local people in a survey last year
  • 67% were put on hold, 20% got an engaged tone and 10% were cut off
  • 22% of people had to wait 10-30 minutes for their call to be answered, 15%, longer
  • 51% of people living in central or south Reading said calling their surgery was difficult, compared with 22% in west Reading and 8% in north Reading

Healthwatch Reading sent the finding to Berkshire West Commissioning Group (which oversees local GP surgeries), asking it to improve the public's access to GPs. In its formal response to us, the CCG has committed to a range of actions:

The NHS response to our report

Berkshire West Clinical Commissioning Group said it would ask surgeries to:

  • introduce standard, shorter phone messages to reduce calls
  • take patients’ work schedules into account on timing of GP call back
  • release appointments in stages through the day and not just at 8am
  • re-introduce online appointment booking ‘in a controlled way’

The CCG is also speaking in detail with eight surgeries where there are high levels of patient dissatisfaction about phone access.

Share your thoughts

You can help make health and care services better by sharing your experiences and ideas.

Talk to us