The frustratingly long waits patients endure on the phone when trying to make appointments to see Norfolk doctors has been laid bare in a survey by watchdogs.

Patients are struggling to get appointments with GPs, according to a major survey by Healthwatch Norfolk, and health bosses have been urged to take action to stop people hanging on the telephone.

But NHS Norfolk and Waveney chiefs say there are now more appointments available than ever before, although not all are in person with GPs.

Triggered by increasing complaints about people unhappy with their experiences at surgeries, the patient watchdog conducted a four-month survey at doctors’ surgeries across the county.

Visiting 50 sites and talking to more than 500 patients, Healthwatch Norfolk's survey found:

  • While 46pc of patients said they would rate booking appointments at their GP as five out of five, others said they were waiting for long periods on the telephone, with some being cut off.
  • Many patients believed receptionists were making clinical decisions or deciding who could be seen first, unaware those decisions were actually being made by trained clinical staff.
  • Frustration among some patients that they were only able to book appointments as emergencies on the day and not for specific days in advance.
  • Patients were not aware of, or were reluctant to use, online ways of booking appointments and did not know surgeries offered other services as alternatives to seeing GPs.
  • Virtual appointments were seen by some patients as no substitute for in-person appointments.

Following the survey, Healthwatch Norfolk has made a string of recommendations to health bosses, which it says could help reduce frustration for patients and ease pressure on GPs.

The recommendations call for a review of phone systems to cut the time patients wait, for health bosses to encourage surgeries doing good work to share ideas with others and that communication with patients needs to be improved.

Eastern Daily Press: Alex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch NorfolkAlex Stewart, chief executive of Healthwatch Norfolk (Image: Healthwatch Norfolk)

Healthwatch Norfolk chief executive Alex Stewart said: "More investigation is needed around telephone systems to make sure they are fit for purpose, and patients need better information about how they can access help along with how their GP surgery works post-Covid.

"Some practices are doing this very well within their communities, but others do need more help and support from their health colleagues and from the NHS Norfolk and Waveney communications team.

"There are surgeries doing some very good work at making sure patients are aware of the help they can give and helping people get it.

“We would like to see the expertise, knowledge and experiences of those staff shared across Norfolk to help improve communication and support for patients."

What do health bosses say?

Eastern Daily Press: NHS Norfolk and Waveney say more patient appointments are available than ever beforeNHS Norfolk and Waveney say more patient appointments are available than ever before (Image: Press Association)

Bosses at NHS Norfolk and Waveney welcomed the report but said more appointments were now available than ever before.

And they said GP practices already had measures to ensure people got the right care and support, although that could mean virtual appointments, rather than face-to-face.

The spokeswoman said: "We welcome Healthwatch Norfolk’s report and recommendations for ways to improve patient experience with GP practices.

"We know how important it is for people to receive prompt care from their GP practice in a way that suits their needs.

"Helping people receive the right care and support when they need it and listening and responding to people’s needs and preferences is something local practices do every day."

She said since the Covid-19 pandemic, GPs had worked differently in how patient requests are managed - and what is offered at surgeries.

They said: "This includes introducing a variety of healthcare roles within practices, providing flexibility for patients to agree the type of care they want to receive, and reducing waiting times.

"In addition, clinical triage is in place to best understand how a person can be seen, whether that’s a face-to-face appointment, a phone consultation, or a video call.

"Using these measures, practices in Norfolk and Waveney are offering more appointments than ever."

But she added: "Healthwatch Norfolk’s report highlights the need for ongoing and varied methods of communication between practices and patients to improve patient understanding of these measures which will help further improve patient experience."

READ MORE: Five Norfolk GPs see fewer than half of patients face to face