Out of hours is swamped by callers

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Eight-year-old Tia Topping-Vennard’s trauma sums up the long waits experienced by patients using the out-of-hours doctor service over the past couple of weekends.

Tia’s mum Lisa rang the service at 3.15pm on Saturday, described the symptoms of a severe sore throat and requested an antibiotic “as has been the case before as she has suffered in the past”.

Said Lisa, “The receptionist said she would have to come back to me. She hadn’t returned my call, so I rang back again after eight. There was no more contact until they rang us back – from Newry – just before midnight, by which time Tia was fast asleep in bed, having suffered all day.

“I was told to ring back on Sunday and they would see what they could do, but we’d lost heart at that stage. We went to our own GP on Monday, who confirmed my diagnosis and prescribed the antibiotic. Tia suffered unnecessarily, but is improving well.”

It was just one of around a dozen tales of woe which local councillor David Jones received on his Facebook page after he’d fielded a number of telephone complaints to his mobile about long waiting times. “I was frankly shocked at the number of people left in limbo,” he said.

“I’m not blaming the staff for one minute – the doctors and their staff are swamped and work virtual miracles. But the service itself seems inadequate, just as A&E seems to be under relentless pressure.”

His litany of complaints included –

A parent worried that a six-week-old baby was ill and phoned on Saturday night. She was informed of a 10-hour waiting list but there was still no reply when that time had passed.

Another parent phoned at Saturday lunchtime. She received reply on Sunday 2.30pm (discovered on answer phone) and went to own GP on Monday.

Parent phoned 1pm, 2pm and 4pm on Saturday, and took child to A&E where the case was cleared in two hours.

Elderly man with difficulty in breathing was told there was an eight-hour wait.

“This is unacceptable,” said Mr Jones. “I’m convinced that with less bureaucracy and better organisation, the NHS would be under less pressure. And, of course, services like A&E are abused. Many cases simply aren’t accident or emergency and many could go to their own GPs with their health problems. But out-of-hours needs re-organised in the face of all this waiting.”

A Trust Spokesperson said: “Approximately 94% of urgent calls received by our GP Out of Hours service at the weekend were responded to within 20 minutes (the target is 90%).

“The GP Out Of Hours service was extremely busy at the weekend dealing with a very high volume of patients – at peak times, we had more than 1 patient contacting GP Out Of Hours every minute.

“Regular messages were issued over the weekend via Trust social media advising the public of the high patient demand for GP Out Of Hours and appealing for people to consider the alternatives.

“The GP Out of Hours Service is only for patients with urgent medical problems that cannot wait until their GP practice opens. All urgent calls will always be given priority.“

He added: “870 of the calls to the GP Out of Hours service at the weekend were not urgent and did not require urgent care – these included minor ailments like: colds, coughs, runny noses, etc... Unfortunately at times of peak demand on the service, long waits for call backs can be expected for patients with non-urgent problems.

“We appeal again to people to help health and social services cope with the extra pressures by choosing the right service to meet their needs. The Choose Well campaign aims to help people gain a better understanding of the health services available to treat everything from a common cold to a major emergency. For more information on choosing the right service visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/choosewell”