Sickness at Suffolk surgeries means long phone waits for patients

Chesterfield Drive Surgery

The Chesterfield Drive Surgery is part of the Cardinal Medical Practice. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

Health bosses in Suffolk have urged people to contact their GP surgeries by email or app rather than using the phone if possible because of staff shortages caused by Covid and other winter bugs.

Some people are not able to use computers or smartphones to contact their GPs - and it would be better if those who could use other methods to contact surgeries kept phone lines clear for them.

The problem was highlighted by one patient from the Cardinal Medical Practice who had to wait on the phone nearly 40 minutes to make an appointment for a regular check-up.

The pensioner, who lives in Highfield Road, said he was irritated that he couldn't make the appointment in person - the Chesterfield Drive Surgery, part of the Cardinal Medical Practice, is not far from his home.

He said: "I haven't got a mobile phone or computer so the only way to make an appointment is by phone. When I rang up the other day I was 18th in the queue and it took me 38 minutes to get a reply - I had to pay for that phone call.

"I've had to wait before but now everything else is opening up why should it still be so difficult to make an appointment at the doctors?"

Patients can book appointments through the official NHS app or get help through the Ask My GP section on the Cardinal Medical Practice's website.

The website also has a warning on its home page that staff are only able to deal with cases deemed clinically urgent.

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Claire Pemberton, head of primary care for the NHS Ipswich said East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “GP practices across Suffolk and north east Essex are currently experiencing severe workforce challenges due to high rates of Covid-19, colds and diarrhoea in the community.

“Practice staff are just as susceptible to these illnesses and at present many Cardinal Practice’s administration staff are off sick, meaning the clinical staff are having to answer calls when they’re not seeing patients.

“The practice uses the Ask MY GP online system which has successfully reduce telephone waiting times for those people who need to ring the surgery direct to an average of six minutes, but the temporary loss of their admin staff has severely impacted response times.”