Like most people in their 70s and beyond, I suffer from occasional ill health and need to seek medical advice at my local NHS surgery. Until recently, I could make a non-urgent appointment on my surgery’s website. Sure, for anything other than an urgent appointment, I have to wait a few weeks before a slot becomes available but I understand the pressure the NHS system is under and my surgery is in a village populated by many elderly people so… I just wait my turn and hope that my non-urgent problem does not become urgent.
The surgery’s online booking service is based on software provided by an organisation called EMIS Health. To make an appointment, I am re-directed to EMIS Health’s website where I can view available booking slots for each doctor and make my selection accordingly. Several times earlier this year, I have been informed there were no slots – see later for the exact text – and my wife has then had to call the surgery and make an appointment. Most times when she does this, I am booked to see a doctor I’ve never met at “The Hub”, a local community hospital where, it seems, doctors from various local surgeries can elect to work overtime to see patients they do not have time to see within their normal working hours; a sort of multi-surgery group practice.
Well, that’s fine and dandy except, of course, you’ve no idea who you will see at The Hub and so all continuity with your own doctor (a quaint term that is fast disappearing) is lost.
Yesterday, and today, I tried yet again to book an appointment for something that has been niggling me for a few months now. So, I went through the online procedure hoping to find a slot that would suit me. Instead, I received the usual message from EMIS Health. Here it is:
I have tried several times over the last two days to book a (non-urgent) appointment with one of the GPs at my local NHS practice using the EMIS Health online booking system. Each time, I receive a cryptic message that reads “Sorry, your practice does not have any appointment slots that can be booked online” – see attachment. That’s it. No further information as to how I can book an appointment. I could, of course, call the practice but I am hearing impaired and have serious problems with telephone calls. Or I could walk to the surgery but I am close to 80 years old and walking is not so easy these days. Or I could go in my car (which requires that I have one). Or I could catch a bus (which requires that there’s a convenient bus route close by). Or… you could provide further advice as to how I should proceed. Please do so.
I’ll append their reply, if I live long enough to receive it!
Footnote, two hours later:
To give EMIS Health its due, I did receive an automated reply within two hours. Here is an extract from the reply:
This is a quick automated email with some tips that we’ve found help most people with an appointment query. If these tips don’t help, just hit reply and one of our team will get you the help you need.
Your practice chooses which appointments, and which type of appointments, to make available online. They also set how many appointments you can have booked at one time. If you can access appointment booking but cannot see the type of appointment you need, there are no appointments available, or your chosen clinician has no availability, please contact your surgery.
In my response, I wrote:
Sorry, your practice does not have any appointment slots that can be booked online. We suggest you either call or visit your surgery or, if you are unable to do this, ask a family member or neighbour to do so on your behalf.
Just a suggestion.
We’ll see if the message changes in the future. In the meantime, I’ve gone down to the surgery and booked an appointment over the counter – 14:30 tomorrow. Not bad!
Second Footnote, one day later
Further response from EMIS Health:
Thank you for getting in touch and for your feedback. I’ll pass this onto our development team for you.