Now I’m not complaining or anything, BUT ……….. thus far my experience of dealing with the NHS has been frustrating to say the least.
Coming from Australia, I’d been warned it could be difficult registering with a GP in London, so as soon as we found somewhere to live I was on the case. It started off well. I looked online for GPs in our local area and found one within 5 mins walk, with good reviews, convenient opening hours, a reasonable number of patients and an online appointment system. I registered online, then went in for my ID and address check, and to complete some additional forms. I answered all the usual medical questions on a self-guided computer called the “surgery pod”, which included a nifty self-administered blood pressure machine, and scales to automatically calculate BMI. So far, so good. The reception ladies were satisfied I’d completed everything, and voila, I was registered.
I brought 3 months of medication and plenty of ostomy supplies with me, so there was no huge rush to see a doctor, but I figured the sooner the better, so I organised an appointment for the next week (16 January). I was even able to get an after work time slot – bonus!
The GP consult was short but thorough, and after taking my Crohn’s and surgery history, and reading the correspondence from my Australian gastroenterologist and colorectal surgeon, I felt comfortable and like I was in good hands. I was given a blood test referral and told the GP team would meet tomorrow about referring me to a consultant (aka specialist to any Aussies) at the Royal London Hospital. The GP didn’t envisage any issues and said I should hear from the hospital with an appointment. I’d even be able to access my blood test results and make my next GP appointment via the online patient access system. This was all very promising!! My only minor concern at this point was being prescribed Imuran as it sounds like there are extra processes involved with this (understandable as it is an immunosuppressant and can have serious side effects).
Fast forward almost 7 weeks, and I still don’t even have an appointment to see a specialist/consultant. I’m not waiting for my appointment (which I understand there might be a bit of a wait for) … I don’t even have a date yet!
The first frustrating thing was the blood test results. I had the test the day after I saw the GP at St Thomas’ hospital (where I work, so it made sense to have it there). I was told I should have the results in 5 days. After a week I checked my patient profile online (where all test results should be uploaded to – I knew that was too good to be true). Nada. 3 WEEKS LATER, after chasing the GP every other day (and now being told I shouldn’t have had the tests done outside “the area” – not what the GP told me), eventually one of the receptionists got a faxed copy of my results which I had to pick up from the surgery.
So I now had my blood test results, but still no appointment at Royal London, which meant no script for my Imuran or way to order ostomy supplies. Back on the phone to the GP. Yes, your referral was definitely sent on 23 Jan, you should hear soon. A week later … This time I was told to follow up directly with the hospital. After spending my entire lunch break on the phone I managed to ascertain that they had my referral. There was some weird confusion about an appointment I supposedly had on 27 Jan (first I’d heard of this) which after being placed on hold for some time, I was then told was a “dummy” booking (?), and they would have to investigate. I should call back in 5 days.
5 days later I called back, only to be told they’d now rejected my referral!! The hospital couldn’t really explain why, only that the GP had been notified and I would need a new referral. They were talking about STT which when quizzed, they said stood for straight to triage but I’ve since googled and think it means straight to test. But how am I to know?! All these new acronyms and nobody explains anything, or worse yet, you get a different answer and advice depending who you speak to! By this stage I was extremely frustrated and confused!!
I checked with the GP to see if I needed another appointment for a new referral. The receptionist checked my file notes and said they should have all the information they need and the GP would just write a new referral. I should hear back by the end of the week with a log in for a “Book and Choose” appointment. But if I didn’t hear anything, I should call back next week.
Of course, I didn’t hear anything, so I rang again. This time I was told another story by a different receptionist. ARGH!!!!!! First she said I would have to go in and pick up the Book and choose referral, then she said it had already been done and I should speak to the hospital again. Which is it??!!! Back on the phone to the hospital who said that they had nothing new on file! I needed to be referred for diagnostic tests NOT an out patient appointment.
When I called the GP back I did not hide my frustration from the receptionist, who organised for one of the GP’s to call me back. I was 14th in line for call backs. About an hour later a GP called. I went through the whole story again and she then explained everything and confirmed the new referral had, in fact, NOT yet been done (BUT should be in the next day or so) and that it would be the GP surgery that contacted me with the details (NOT the hospital). I triple checked this with her to be sure!
This was on Monday. It is now Thursday, and I still haven’t heard anything. So, I called the GP. Again. At first I was fobbed off by the receptionist who told me I needed to call the hospital. “NOOOOOOOOOO” – I told her the GP was very clear that it would be them that would be giving me the information. I was not having any more of this!! I honestly felt like I was going around in circles and off loaded because nobody wanted to deal with me! After putting me on hold a couple of times “to check” she agreed it had been done but was waiting for the Medical Secretary to type it up and it should be ready by tomorrow, so I should call in the morning. Rather, I suggested, I might pop by the surgery in the morning to collect it. Am I being too pushy?! I don’t think so!
I was going to entitle this post NHSux or NHSlow or NHShit but I don’t want to disrespect a system that I’m sure in theory is a good one and a lot better than many other countries. I don’t know enough about the politics or procedures here yet to confidently comment or make judgement. I’m sure part of the frustration stems from my own lack of knowledge and dealing with a new and unfamiliar system. I am also sure once I have an appointment the care I get will be excellent.
I realise that the NHS is massively under resourced and there are huge funding cuts going on. I’m sure I’m not the only one dealing with things like this. One lady I spoke to told me her IBD follow up appointment had been pushed back by 3 months for no reason. She commented that it’s no wonder so many people end up in A&E when they can’t even get their regular consultant appointments.
I am fortunate to be well at the moment, and luckily my appointment is not that urgent, but what if it was?? I’m also lucky I brought ostomy supplies from Australia to keep me going, but they won’t last forever. I only have around 3 weeks’ worth of medication left. I’m sure there would be ways around this if I told the GP, but I ended up organising a script through my gastroenterologist back in Sydney, which my mum got filled, and my dad who is visiting London next week will bring over for me. This is probably a big no, no, but it seemed the easiest option, rather than deal with the bureaucracy here. Hopefully the 3 months’ worth my dad is bringing is enough to last me at least until I eventually manage to get an appointment!!
So tomorrow morning I will go to the GP, and fingers, toes and everything else crossed, I should hopefully have what I need and this will all be sorted. I’m not holding my breath! Wait for the next instalment to find out!
A beyond frustrated, Laura x