Debate on GP practices is brought to the fore as new report shows dissatisfaction with booking and waiting for appointments.

Annie Topping, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk

Annie Topping, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk - Credit: Archant

Difficulty in booking appointments and problematic opening times at GP services in Suffolk are among the issues raised in a new report by a health watchdog, as the group looks to open up the debate on general practice.

Healthwatch Suffolk has brought together its previous work on GP practices and comments made by patients in the document, with nearly three in four comments being described as “negative in sentiment”.

Among the work publicised is an ongoing GP survey, which shows about one in four of respondents (27%), did not feel they were able to see their doctor as quickly as they would like to. 75% of comments surrounding booking and waiting for appointments were also described as “negative”.

The report, created for Suffolk’s Health Scrutiny Committee, comes as hospital bosses in Suffolk and Essex have spoken about the increasing demand on their emergency departments.

Annie Topping, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “There are definitely some challenges in parts of Suffolk in relation to GP services.

“GP services will be critical in terms of how we deliver health and care in the future – it will be an important area for us to do something about.”

Other issues which have dominated the comments and report include the ease of accessing services, continuity of care and staffing. Officials from the group added that while they have received a large number of comments, GP practices will also have their own ways of gathering feedback.

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GPs in the county have said there is a need for more care in the community and that patients need to be more aware of what is available to them for treatment, whether that is going to A&E, a GP, or getting advice from a pharmacist.

John Havard, senior partner at Saxmundham Health, said many services, including his, have urgent appointments for patients

He added: “People think if they go to hospital they get the best treatment, whereas in fact, you are probably better seeing your GP.”

While there are negative aspects in the report, patients have written about their positive experiences as well. This includes staff treating them with respect and a survey in which 85% of 422 patients were happy with the overall service.

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups said: “GP practices across east and west Suffolk have a good reputation for high patient satisfaction levels.

“Last week the national NHS survey of 10,000 patients was published. This showed that 87% of Suffolk patients felt the experience of their GP surgery was very good or good.

“We will study this report and discuss its contents with Healthwatch Suffolk.”

A spokesman for NHS England in East Anglia said: “We welcome the feedback that we receive from Healthwatch Suffolk and it is hugely valuable in informing our priorities for the development of local services.

“The standard and quality of primary care across Suffolk is something we are really proud of and while there are always areas where we look to improve, it is important to also recognise that nationally, the data demonstrates that access to, and quality of our general practice services is extremely good.”

The report has also come as it was revealed that at Ipswich Hospital, there was a 46% rise in patients over 75 attending A&E between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve in 2014, compared to the previous year.