Staff at Swanage Medical Practice say they are increasingly facing rude and aggressive behaviour from some patients, annoyed at not being able to get the appointments or treatment they want.
Doctors insist that, contrary to reports, they have been seeing patients face-to-face, and doing home visits, throughout the pandemic. This is delivered on a clinical needs’ basis, following a ‘triage’ telephone call.
But senior partner Dr Wendy Heard writing in a newsletter to patients, said it has been an extremely frustrating and challenging time for everyone. And she warned that, despite government easing of restrictions, there would be no early return to the previous system:
“For the time being we will continue with the strict Covid guidelines.”
Covid restrictions, like masks and social distancing, will continue
“I’m not happy at all”
The triage system seems to be the main sticking point with patients. It means allocating the reduced face-to-face appointments, and arranging ‘telcons’ – consultations on the phone – after an initial assessment. Surgery staff are also encouraging people to use the online ‘e-consult’ system.
Swanage resident Peter Hall said:
“I’m not happy at all. I wouldn’t say it’s very clever at the moment. To get into that surgery to see a doctor you are struggling.
“It’s a shame because it used to be so good, but you will struggle even to get a phone call from them now. People are missing out on treatment because they’re not getting seen.”
But another local, Dawn Stockley, said:
“I don’t have an issue at all. I had an appointment the other day and they were as good as gold. They are really efficient and helpful. They keep it Covid friendly, and the appointment is on time.”
Challenging times at the surgery
“Not just for those that shout the loudest”
The number of people testing positive for Covid in Swanage has risen in recent weeks. The latest data shows that there were 28 people who tested positive for Covid in Swanage in the seven days up to Friday 16th July 2021.
Measures the surgery has taken, because of the ongoing crisis, have had a knock-on effect for other treatments and consultations.
Dr Wendy Heard said:
“Most of our patients appreciate that we need to have protocols in place so that the practice functions fairly and safely for all our patients and not just for those that shout the loudest.”
Surgery staff have been trained in something called ‘Care Navigation’ and as first point of contact have been deciding what is the most appropriate way to proceed with a caller’s concern.
Doctors claim the NHS, including general practice, is facing ‘unprecedented demand’
“Very rude and unnecessarily aggressive behaviour”
Dr Heard continued in her newsletter to patients:
“Our staff are increasingly on the receiving end of some very rude and unnecessarily aggressive behaviour which is demoralising and upsetting. It is worth remembering that our first point of contact teams are doing their jobs as directed.
“With the new Delta variant, cases are on the rise again, and with easing of restrictions we cannot reduce our resolve to protect the most susceptible in our community and this means following our rules.
“We are very much here for you and want to help you. Help us, help you by remaining calm and being kind to our team.
“We have had so much heart-warming support from our patients over the past year but do understand it has been an extremely frustrating and challenging time for everyone.”
There has also been ‘heart-warming’ support from patients
“We are aware of the frustrations”
Dr Heard added that there were many positive developments to give hope. She cited the high uptake of the vaccine, the efforts of the community to protect others, and plans for a ‘booster vaccination’.
She said the NHS was facing ‘unprecedented demand’ and insisted they had a duty to protect vulnerable patients and staff. She added:
“We can’t yet have a full waiting room, or an overwhelmed reception area full of people, for that very reason.
“We are aware of the frustrations this causes and that is why the twice daily telephone triage service is in place, routine telcons can also be booked, e-consult can be used and don’t forget that having online access allows you to request your repeat medications and view your medical record with ease.”
While she acknowledged it was ‘challenging’ at times to get through on the phone, she added that they now had up to five receptionists answering the phone at any one time.
Advice to patients
The surgery advises patients to phone the surgery in the first instance. Telephone appointments can then be arranged with GPs, advanced nurse practitioners or a paramedic. They will arrange for patients to be seen face-to-face if considered appropriate.
Some treatment room appointments remain as telephone consultations, other appointments will be offered face to face.
The eConsults are available via the practice website.