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People struggle to access Primary Care services

18/03/2015

Access to primary care services including GPs, dentists and opticians is the public’s number one health concern, according to the local Healthwatch network*

  • Findings from Healthwatch Bradford and District contributed to a national report published today raising these concerns with NHS policy makers and calling for action
  • A study of 550 GP practices and feedback collected from 11,000 patients reveals that, despite overall satisfaction with primary care being high, there are significant issues for some – particularly for those who are deaf, blind or use a wheelchair**
  • Volunteers from Healthwatch Bradford and District recently visited GP practices and identified similar issues around access for people with disabilities

Studies conducted by 55 local Healthwatch from all around the country, including Healthwatch Bradford and District,  suggest that there are significant issues of concern for some groups of people, particularly for those with hearing, visual and mobility impairments.

Healthwatch England, the national consumer champion, has compiled the findings into a single report which uses patients’ real life experiences to highlight areas where people want to see improvement.

These include:

  • Physically accessing GP and dentist surgeries
  • Problems making an appointment
  • Problems with communication

Local Healthwatch are now using this evidence and working with local commissioners to address these issues on the ground and improve the experience of patients whose views are not always heard.

The views that Healthwatch Bradford and District gathered last year from 600 people in its ‘Invisible at the Desk report’ have contributed to today’s report from Healthwatch England, along with reports from many other local Healthwatch organisations. 

Healthwatch Bradford and District also recently published its Enter and View report on North Street GP practice in Keighley, where they identified issues around accessibility for disabled patients. Enter and View visits are led by trained volunteers, who can give a fresh perspective on services from a member of the public’s point of view. One of the volunteers who visited North Street was Anne-Marie Bentley, who uses a wheelchair and has complex health needs. She got involved in volunteering with Healthwatch after sharing her own experiences of difficulties with access at a number of GP practices in the District.

“It’s simple things, like getting into the building, that they get wrong,” she explains. “You go through the first set of automatic doors no problem, but the second is a heavy door which I needed to be held open for me – sometimes you’d just have to wait ‘til someone came along and helped you.

“There was a baby gate before the nurse’s room that I couldn’t get through; chairs that completely obstructed my path.

“My current GP practice is much better but there are still barriers – the reception desk is so high, I can’t see over it. They can’t see me, either, so I literally have to wave to get their attention – it seems so unnecessary. I can’t check in using the screen because it’s too high to reach.”

A spokesperson for NHS Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven Clinical Commissioning Group said: “We note that issues around access for our disabled patients have been highlighted at the Keighley practice, which is based in an older, listed building. In buildings of this nature, there are often restrictions regarding alterations and improvements.

“We would like to stress that the CCG supports equal access to GP surgeries for all and encourages its member practices to ensure that the access needs of all members of our communities are met. We welcome the Healthwatch reports, which are very useful to practices in helping them to identify and address issues around accessibility.

“We are working with practices to look into improving and enhancing the current records’ system so, with patients’ consent, any access needs they may have can be flagged up straightaway to our receptionists and GPs on arrival at the practice for their appointment.”

A spokesperson for Healthwatch Bradford and District, said: “Healthwatch hears from people across the district about their experiences of primary care services, it’s still the number one issue that people are talking to us about. On top of the well-known problems with getting appointments, we find that certain groups of people are having specific issues, particularly around access and communication.

“In Bradford, Healthwatch will continue to focus on understanding the experiences of these groups of people, and pushing for every practice in the District to deliver the excellent, person-centred care that we know many already offer.”

At a national level, Healthwatch England will be raising these concerns with the Department of Health and NHS policy makers and calling on them to review how improvements can be across the country to ensure everyone has equal access to vital frontline NHS services. 

Anna Bradley, Chair of Healthwatch England, said: “We know from our conversations with the public that many are satisfied with the overall service they receive – yet, when we dig beneath the surface, their experiences tell a different story, including reports from many patients with disabilities about communication problems and physical access barriers making it difficult for them to attend important appointments.

“Where ever physically possible, we want to see every GP and dentist surgery equipped with appropriate disabled access and provide hearing loops and translation service for those who are hearing impaired. We also want services to make it seamless and simple for disabled patients to communicate with them about booking appointments, arranging follow-up treatment and taking their medication.

“These are basic requirements that all GP and dental practices are required to deliver so a good quality service is available for all.”

By law, under the Equality Act 2010, all health and social care providers are required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to make sure that a disabled person can access and use the service as close as possible to the way a non-disabled person would.

Downloads

Local Healthwatch Investigate: Primary Care - executive summary

Healthwatch England Primary Care: a review of local Healthwatch reports

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