Sheringham doctors set to keep controversial phone appointment system

A controversial phone appointment system looks set to stay at a north Norfolk surgery after a patient survey produced positive feedback.

A public meeting was held on Saturday at Sheringham High School to reveal the results of the survey into the total telephone triage system (TTS) that has been used at Sheringham Medical Practice since January 2009.

Under the system, patients call the surgery and register their details with a receptionist. The doctor rings back, usually within two hours, to decide the best way to treat them.

There has been some criticism of TTS, including allegations that it is designed to stop patients from seeing GPs.

The meeting, attended by more than 100 people and chaired by North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, heard Corah Carney from User Views present the results of the survey, which targeted 1,000 of the surgery's 10,000 patients, with 380 people responding.

She said 97pc of the respondents were aware of the system, 89pc felt the options on the telephone were clear, 76pc were satisfied with the choice of doctor offered to them, 84pc of patients were satisfied with the callback time-slot offered to them, while 89pc were satisfied with the way receptionists dealt with them.

She added that there was an issue over doctors failing to check over the phone whether it was a good time to call, with just 40pc of those surveyed saying they had.

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Mrs Carney said: 'We asked those surveyed to give a mark out of 10, and the average mark was six.'

And she said that of 350 comments received about the service, two-thirds were positive and one-third were negative.

She added: 'The results overall were positive, with a high level of awareness of the system, high demand for access to the practice, high patient satisfaction with the initial contact via telephone and patients overall being satisfied with the callback slots offered.'

Surgery business manager Charlotte Pike said: 'We believe the results support the continuing operation of the system, if that's the route we decide to go down.

'We fully respect the views of patients. We've become the healthcare equivalent of Marmite: you either love the system or you hate it.'

She said the practice had responded to comments by giving a specific callback time within one hour for patients not on the duty doctor list, and had introduced callback slots after 5pm to help those who were working.

She added: 'We are not complacent about those who are not happy. We will seek to improve these satisfaction ratings further.'

During public questions, Chris Dutton called for a referendum on the issue, saying 380 responses out of 1,000 people surveyed and 10,000 patients was 'inconsequential'.

Another member of the public criticised the practice, saying parents with seriously ill children should be able to count on an 'immediate' response from a GP - a situation that GP partner Dr Paul Roebuck insisted would happen.