Frustration over long waits for Calderdale patients to speak to their doctor

A situation where patients can spend up to two hours on the phone trying to get through to their local practice – and no guarantee of success – is among healthcare access issues that have to change, says a councillor.

By John Greenwood - Local Democracy Reporter
Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 8:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd June 2022, 9:25 am

GP recruitment and patient access to surgeries are key issues that a new look health and wellbeing watchdog will have to tackle and health partners resolve, says Coun Colin Hutchinson (Lab, Skircoat).

Among questions Coun Hutchinson wants a new look Health and Wellbeing Board to tackle – after changes to the way primary care is operated, due to be in place by the end of the month, are made – include why Calderdale struggles to attract GPs to work there and how issues at his family’s own practice will be improved.

Until retiring in 2016, Coun Hutchinson was a senior eye surgeon at Calderdale Royal Hospital who also held a senior clinical management post.

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Patients are feeling abandoned because of the length of time it takes to get through to a doctor, says a Calderdale councillor

Coun Hutchinson said that at the previous night’s ward forum meeting half of the time was taken up discussing problems of access to healthcare.

Primary care was his main concern including the surgery where his own family were registered, and despite the Secretary of State making pledges in 2015 that 5,000 more GPs would be created, a pledge boosted in 2019, the number has actually fallen by 1,500, he said.

More GPs were being trained but not enough to compensate for others leaving the profession, said Coun Hutchinson.

Calderdale has around 2,000 patients per GP, the highest number in West Yorkshire, and it is no surprise patients were having difficulty accessing practices.

Calderdale councillor Colin Hutchinson has voiced concerns over patients' access to local GPs.

It varies from practice to practice but at his own: “Problems have been particularly severe for, I would say, two years at least, many patients if they phone up having to hang on the phone for two hours or more to get through to a receptionist or simply met by an engaged tone, which leaves them with a sense of abandonment,” said Coun Hutchinson.

Even booking online he found a two week wait and it was no surprise people ended up going to Accident and Emergency, he said.

“People understand that the system is under pressure but the frustration of not being able to get to step one of speaking to a real life human being to explain what it is you want is immensely frustrating,” said Coun Hutchinson.

A basic first step would be to have an appropriate number of manned telephone lines, he said.

Problems had been raised through the Clinical Commissioning Group – these will cease to be under the new arrangements – and through the Primary Care Network but only “bland assurances” steps were being taken, said Coun Hutchinson.

He told members of Calderdale Health and Wellbeing Board a national policy was to train and recruit physician associates to help GP practices.

But these needed adequate supervision especially early on and a shortage of GPs, or alternative care providers recruiting less GPs, an issue highlighted by the television programme Panorama, which impacted on the ability to do this was concerning.

He asked the board: “Why is Calderdale so bad at recruiting and retaining General Practitioners, and I am aware that is is long-standing, I’ve been aware of problems in the upper valley for many, many years, that have remained un addressed?

“Does this board and Calderdale cares have a strategy to address this … is there an agreed approach of supervision and support to physician associates in Calderdale, given they will form such a major part of the clinician input to primary care going forward?”

Coun Hutchinson also sought assurance that issues at his own practice would not be through an alternative provider contract – when when its patients could expect their telephone calls to be answered in a reasonable number of minutes.

Board Chair, Coun Tim Swift (Lab, Town) said various health partners would want to reflect on what he had said a provide a detailed written answer, and the board needed to look at primary care issues again.

Coun Hutchinson told the board, which was discussing the new board’s terms of reference, that as new arrangements aimed at primary care indicated decisions would be taken as close as possible to the people new structures would be serving, as the smallest of West Yorkshire’s five areas it was essential people’s needs were advocated through a very well structured delivery plan.