Wasted appointments lead to controversial new system in Leighton Buzzard surgery

Leighton Road Surgery.
Leighton Road Surgery.

A new appointment system at Leighton Road Surgery in Leighton Buzzard has caused outrage, with frustration centering on the triaging of patients before they get to see a GP.

As of May 29, patients have to first book a telephone consultation with a doctor, who assesses whether the person needs an appointment at the surgery.

Leighton Road Surgery's site on Grovebury Road.

Leighton Road Surgery's site on Grovebury Road.

However, patients have alleged that the new triage system has made things even worse, claiming that the phone lines are “gridlocked”, that callers get cut off whilst on hold, and that the extra “hurdle” to get an appointment just wastes time.

Many have taken to Facebook to complain, with one woman alleging: “I need to have regular dressings by a nurse...but it appears impossible to obtain an appointment.”

Patient Lori Greaves, 43, told the LBO: “It suddenly changed to this triage system a few weeks ago. I have heard of people being on hold for 20 minutes and getting cut off. If you’re a student or at work, you don’t have time to sit on the phone for that long.

“You could go in and speak to a receptionist, but that also creates a barrier if you are disabled, work full time, or have anxiety.

“I assume people wanting walk-in appointments have to be assessed by the triage doctor too, but the phonelines must be chock-a-block! You used to wait around one month for an appointment but now people say it’s more like six weeks.”

A Leighton Road Surgery spokeswoman, said: “Leighton Road Surgery has always adapted its appointment system to optimise resources and ensure patients receive high quality care.

“However, over the past few years we have seen an increase in the number of patients who do not turn up for their appointments (DNA). From January 1 to May 31 we have had just over 1500 wasted appointments where patients have failed to attend.

“This, combined with both the national and local shortage of doctors, has meant that we have had to review our appointment system.

“Our new system, which started on May 29, and is currently in use by other Surgeries both nationally and locally, encourages patients to call on the day that they need an appointment. Patients are then triaged by a doctor who will either deal with their condition on the telephone or make an appointment for them to come in that day.

“This system ensures that those patients who need to see either a doctor or nurse are able to do so.

“Patients who need to see one of our minor illness nurses can still book an appointment directly through our call centre. Patients will also be able to pre book a face to face appointment during our extended opening hours.

“Patients are able to book a telephone consultation either by calling our call centre or through our on-line system. We still offer our Drop-in Blood service whereby patients who need a blood test are able to walk in and wait.

“This service means that patients can choose when they have their blood taken and are not tied to an appointment, although booked appointments are available if patients are unable to visit the Surgery during the nominated Drop-in times.

“We are also compiling a list of local services that patients are able to book directly thereby reducing the need to contact the Surgery for a referral. Our aim at the Surgery is for patients to be able access a range of services that are delivered in both the Practice and locality.

“Our website is going through a major uplift and, once completed, it will reflect our mission of active signposting services to patients to enable them to see the right person in the right setting at the right time.”

Leighton Road Surgery has two sites, one on Grovebury Road and one on Leighton Road.

Mary Prior, of Leighton Road Patient Participation Group, said: “As a result of complaints, abuse of the system and patients failing to attend their booked appointments (on average 300 per month) meaning other patients were unable to book those appointments, Leighton Road Surgery looked at alternative systems.

“The system decided upon is one which is running successfully in Aylesbury and Luton. The PPG were fully briefed on the change to the appointment system before it was implemented on June 1st.

“Initially, there were some teething problems, as there often are when systems change, but these are being addressed and solutions sought. Patients telephoning for an appointment will now be triaged by a GP and offered an appointment with the most appropriate healthcare professional.”

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