A survey has been launched to examine the appointment system at Lerwick Health Centre which has been widely criticised by patients.
Many are not happy with the system which they say makes it difficult to book appointments with the doctor of their choice. Patients have also complained of long waits at the “walk-in” clinics.
The idea for the survey came from Shetland Public Partnership Forum chairman Harold Massie, who asked members to list their top 10 health issues. The subject of Lerwick Health Centre appointments came to the top “by some margin”.
He said: “You can hardly talk to anyone who hasn’t got a story about it.”
Mr Massie set up a group to look at the topic and the idea of a survey came about. It was launched on Monday and on Wednesday he said the response has been “amazing”, with 400 submissions in 48 hours.
He said: “I’m overwhelmed, it’s got a big response. The Scottish Health Council is helping us.”
However, in spite of the depth of feeling, Mr Massie said there had been very few complaints – he described it as a “handful”– prior to the survey on the Patient Opinion website.
The new survey is open until Monday 9th September and the results will then be analysed. Paper copies are widely available throughout the town, as well as online.
Mr Massie said: “It’s asking, ‘what experience have you had and what was your expectation?’ It’s also asking if people were satisfied, and if they missed any appointments, and why.
“From the data we hope to be able to inform the health centre management and the Shetland NHS board on where improvements may be made, and help the Shetland public understand where the limitations of the service lie.”
Various methods of coping with the crowds at Lerwick Health Centre have been tried over recent years. A telephone triage system for prioritising patients was introduced three years ago, but proved unpopular and has been dropped.
The current system is a mix of bookable appointments and walk-in clinics on Tuesdays and Fridays, which can mean long waits. Mr Massie said: “Although you are guaranteed to be seen, there are so many people the whole thing gets overwhelmed.”
There are also emergency clinics three days a week, but patients are often confused as to whether they fit into this category.
Comments on the NHS Patient Opinion website speak of it being “well-nigh impossible” to book an advance appointment with a specified doctor. Another comment cites a queue of 37 people waiting for the doors to the health centre to open at 8.30am, prior to the walk-in clinic opening at 9am.
People then have to wait up to two hours to be seen. One patient calls a wait of that length “pretty shoddy”, and another wonders how it affects patients with mental ill-health, the elderly or those in full-time work.
In answer to the points raised on the Patient Opinion website service manager Lisa Watt said: “There are seven GPs at Lerwick Health Centre who also provide services at the hospital. This means people are not always able to see the GP of their choice immediately. In the walk-in clinic, staff will do their best to get the patient seen by the GP of their choice, if they are working that day.”
The survey can be found online and paper copies are available across Lerwick, at both supermarkets, chemists’ shops, the library and at Market House.
Each paper questionnaire is accompanied by a prepaid envelope for return. The questionnaire is anonymous and asks no personal questions.