When I was aged 8 we moved from the great Georgian city of Bath to a small village 15 miles north of here, in deepest Sussex. It was in an age when certain professions had defined status, an acknowledgment of the contribution they made to the community’s well-being. Teachers and doctors headed this list and their position in the village was well established and respected. Our local doctor, Doctor Hare, was an affable, middle aged chap with florid cheeks and a large laugh. If we wanted to see him professionally, we could make an appointment at his surgery or he would do a house call, complete with his black leather ‘Doctor’s bag’. My parents saw him socially at dinner parties and the like, and I held my 18th birthday in the large garage attached to his house. His daughter Belinda was the first girl I kissed!!
Sorry, I digress!
Back then, getting an appointment with the lowest level in the medical service, in the UK called General Practitioners (GPs), was relatively straight forward. Today I reflect on how backwards we seem to have travelled. I have had a crippling leg/back muscle pain for weeks, relieved occasionally by physiotherapy and massage, by visits to heated rooms, by some attempts at ‘hand on’ healing and with the application of oils – and with the constant use of a painkiller. I needed to check in with my doctor; so yesterday I called the surgery after the 9 o’clock watershed – for people like me, not an emergency, or so I believed with my amateurish knowledge.
You should be aware that before the Easter weekend my GP’s surgery was located in a large, rambling, rather decrepit Victorian house, once the home to a well-to-do family I imagine. Doctors had the old dining room, the square front room, or upstairs one of the old bedrooms as their consultation rooms, whilst the peripheral support staff like nurses and therapists had to make do in smaller rooms or spilled out into hallways and cupboards. Glimpses of the paper filling system did not engender any confidence and it is a wonder they managed to make it work. No! Really! It looked a real mess but this is how a lot of GPs currently interface with their patients.
So I was enormously pleased to read last year that the idea was to move into a deconsecrated church about half a mile away. A developer had had the vision to draw up plans to enable two GP Surgeries and a pharmacy to move into what was Holy Trinity Church. With new consulting rooms, a conference room, treatment rooms and the like it’s a huge step in the right direction. Needless to say Hove Preservation Society objected – to putting a building originally erected to heal the Christian soul and now no longer used, with maintenance and vandalism issues, to the use of healing the physical body, maybe as well as the soul? Fortunately the plans went ahead and it’s opened a couple of days after Easter.
Tuesday – the day of the opening.
“We are experiencing some technological problems with our systems and unless it’s urgent please try tomorrow.”
“This is Trinity Medical Centre. We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue; if it is an emergency pleased dial 999 otherwise please hold (I put the telephone handset on ‘speaker’ so I can carry on doing other things) ……… We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue ……. We are experiencing high volume of call rates currently and you are held in a queue.”
For 10 minutes this went on until, eventually, I got as far as the options menu.
“This is Trinity Medical Centre. If you want to change an appointment please press 2, otherwise please continue to hold.”
“Hello. This is the Trinity Medical Centre, how can I help you.”
“I’d like to make an appointment with Doctor Mackinnon. I have been onto your website and I can’t book one.”
“If you ring tomorrow morning, I can book you an appointment with her in two weeks’ time.”
“Why can’t you book me that appointment now, rather than having me call tomorrow morning?
“Because that is not how it works”!
(and there is no point in getting frustrated because the person you are talking to didn’t decide these things, no matter how much you believe she (in this case and it could have been a male voice!) did)
“Does she have any free appointments tomorrow?”
“Yes she does, about 5, but you would have to come in tomorrow morning at 0830 to book one.”
“I can’t do it over the telephone?” (Like …. Open the appointments page in the computer, put my name in one of the free slots, and tell me when)
“No! You have to come in!”
“OK! So I will call tomorrow.”
A repeat of the first section with which I will not bore you.
“Hello. Trinity Medical Centre. How can I help?”
“Can I book an appointment with Dr Mackinnon today?”
“I can book you an appointment in two weeks’ time.”
“But I was told she has 5 free appointment slots today.”
“I could offer you a telephone appointment.”
“What happened to those free appointment slots?”
“I could offer you a telephone consultation or an appointment in two weeks’ time.” (spoken in a tone which suggests this is ‘take it or leave it and don’t ask any more irritating questions’.)
“OK! I will take the one in two weeks.” (I need to see her for her to refer me for, Oh! I don’t know, an MRI scan, Ultra Sound, physiotherapy and I am sure she wouldn’t make that referral without seeing me.
So there you have it. A little snapshot on the difficulties today of making an appointment to see your doctor. I hadn’t thought about Dr Hare, or Belinda for that matter, for decades, but it seems that we haven’t made any progress from those halcyon days of 1950’s Britain.
Richard 20th April 2017
PS I was even approached by a complete stranger in local George Street this morning. “Excuse me! But you clearly have some pain in your leg” – my hobbling along is obviously very pronounced (!) – “Can I help you though the power of prayer?” I was on my way to stock up with fresh eggs from Dean at his market stall and didn’t want to be distracted, so I mumbled a quick “No! Thank You” and shuffled on my way. Funny life innit!