Telephone access, an apology

We want to apologise to our patients for the problems being experienced in getting through to us via telephone at Carnewater and Stillmoor which has been particularly difficult in the past two weeks.

The challenges of the pandemic, coupled with the flu vaccination season, has put inordinate pressure on the surgeries’ phone systems and our hard-working reception staff in particular.

Clinicians are needing to use phone lines a lot more than ever before in order to contact patients, and this has had an additional impact on our line availability at a time when approximately 5000 patients in each practice have been invited to book a flu vaccination appointment.

We recognise that a few patients do not have access to a smartphone or internet connection at home, but for the majority who do it makes a significant difference where patients use online options to contact us so please do use econsult wherever possible, request your medication online and use our website for helpful advice.

We know that an econsult can take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete but this can be done at any time of day or night, and is far less time than making multiple attempts to get through on the phone.

It also means our clinicians are able to review your medical records before getting back in touch and may be able to save you time by arranging any tests you require first, before putting you or other patients at greater risk by bringing you in to the surgery to discuss the situation face-to-face, not to mention taking your time to do so. Rest assured though, if an econsult suggests a face-to-face appointment is required we will arrange that and promptly.

The majority of patients are having their needs completely met within a few days of their econsult with the majority getting a same day response, whereas they might previously have waited three to four weeks for a face-to-face appointment to start to raise their medical issue.

Many patients are telling us they are grateful that they no longer need to take time off work and travel to the surgery where their needs can be met by a text, telephone or video consultation. Of course there are some for whom this is not appropriate and we continue to take telephone calls and arrange care and appointments as needed for these patients.

Even though digital access is here to stay, the pandemic has highlighted the need to update our phone systems at both practices. Therefore, over three months ago we started investigating options for new systems.

This is a big investment both in terms of money and time and the partners of both Carnewater and Stillmoor House have chosen a new system which will be installed at the earliest practicable date; it is unfortunate this could not be installed earlier but it was important to get the decision right for our patients.

Delaying the flu vaccination programme until the systems were installed was also felt not to be in patients’ best interests and would have been against government directives.   The new systems will enable mean our clinicians no longer need to use traditional phone lines, leaving this solely for patient access, as well as providing improved options for patients when telephoning the surgery.

Despite all these challenges our amazing staff have booked in excess of 1500 flu appointments in each surgery, in the past two weeks on top of managing usual demand.  We have put additional staff on phone answering duties and are in the process of training new staff too.

We are very grateful to those patients who have been understanding of the pressures our staff are under.  They are working tirelessly and we are doing our best to look after them.  Please, please do not take any frustrations out on them and treat them respectfully.

Please also continue to watch our websites and for updates and information about future developments.