A COUNTY councillor for Basingstoke said the current system for seeing a GP in the town “is not working”.

Councillor Kim Taylor, Labour councillor for Basingstoke Central Division, said councillors have been inundated with concerns from residents having problems trying to see a GP.

Read more: Hour wait to call GP surgery as claims made that Basingstoke is being 'let down'

She has now arranged a meeting with Operose – the American health firm responsible for the care of 63,000 patients in Basingstoke including at Camrose, Gillies and Hackwood (CGH) Partnership – to discuss the problems.

The councillor said she intervened and reached out to Operose directly after Hampshire, Southampton, and Isle of Wight Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) failed to respond to her concerns.

Cllr Taylor described problems accessing GP appointments in Basingstoke as “bad” adding: “The main cause of frustration is the inability to make an appointment.”

She said some residents had reported waiting three hours on the phone to get through to their surgery while others had given up trying to book an appointment.

“The telephone system is not working, people are waiting very long periods of time anything between one and three hours on the phone just to get through,” said Cllr Taylor.

She added: “There’s a real frustration at not being able to get through to the surgery on the phone. People might want to make routine appointments for things like cervical cancer. We’ve seen a massive drop in smear rates and it’s not surprising if people can’t get through to make those appointments.”

Cllr Taylor said another concern is around the use of e-consultations and being unable to make a specific time for an appointment to either see or speak with a GP.

She said: “It has potential but it doesn’t work very well. It’s only on during working hours. It gets switched off outside of working hours. If you’re someone who works on the till in Sainsbury’s or you work in retail and distribution you don’t have access to a phone during your working day so you can’t make a doctors’ appointment anymore. You can’t get through on the phones and by the time you get home the system is closed.”

She added: “The form itself isn’t good and often diverts people to call an ambulance immediately. Even if people slog it out to the end and answer questions on their drinking and betting habits, while they get a text to say it’s been received, they might not get a call for two weeks. Some people say they have contact within a day but that seems rare. People are waiting a long time for an appointment which is then telephone.

“The problem with that is that it’s not actually an appointment. They say they will call between 8am and 6pm. You can’t be working on a till and then take a call about a urinary tract infection. Those are the core issues that people are frustrated with.”

Cllr Taylor said she is concerned that people are “giving up” trying to speak with a doctor, adding: “It’s getting so bad that increasingly we are seeing drops in people going to smear tests and people reporting that they just aren’t bothering. We’ve seen in the national news where people have died because something was missed over the phone or they’ve died because they haven’t had timely access.”

She has tried to get answers from the CCG but without success, saying: “It’s not clear to us whether doctors want to do e-consult and telephone triage or whether it’s being forced on them. I never get a clear answer from the CCG.

“A lot of GPs probably feel that they are a call centre getting irritated people who miss the call because they had to go to the toilet or because they’ve waited three weeks for a call.”

Cllr Taylor is also concerned about the negative attitude towards doctors, and said: “My concern is if people are losing their confidence in GPs and attacking them rather than the system then that’s a really dangerous place to be and I wouldn’t want to see that happen.”

She is optimistic about the meeting with Operose, and said: “I’m hoping they will be in listening mode and take steps to improve the situation because the CCG has not listened and it’s really let Basingstoke down.”

Dr Matt Nisbet, GP partner and clinical lead of the Hampshire and Isle of Wight CCG, said: “General practice teams continued to treat patients throughout the pandemic as well as working on the biggest vaccination programme the NHS has ever seen. We are now seeing thousands of people daily with face-to-face appointments as well as continuing to offer patients the choice of face-to-face and remote appointments.”

A spokesperson for Operose Health said: "All of our GP practice teams are working hard to provide the access, care and support our patients expect. We continue to recruit more staff and invest in our services to do this. This year, we have employed extra GPs, a new pharmacist, a nurse and healthcare assistant who will be joining our group soon. To reduce call waiting times, we have also recruited more experienced reception staff.

"We know patients want to speak to our staff as quickly as possible. We have made improvements and have seen faster response times recently on our phone lines. Our tried and tested digital app will also be rolled out this year to make it easier to contact the surgery. We are making progress, but there is more to do. We look forward to discussing these issues with local councillors in the very near future."

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