Healthwatch England is the national consumer champion in health and care. We have significant statutory powers to ensure the voice of the consumer is strengthened and heard by those who commission, deliver and regulate health and care services.
We hear people’s worries and concerns and help national and local decision-makers act upon them to improve local services.
Recently we’ve been examining the issues over 65 consumers face when using primary care services in partnership with Healthwatch Surrey.
From our work on primary care, we know that people are grateful for the care they receive, but have ideas about what could make it better. this is what we heard:
”Using online services saves time “It’s getting past the reception, and the best way […] is to book an appointment online.”
Many of the people we spoke to found simply getting through on the telephones and long waits for appointments were a major barrier to accessing care.
However, they were positive about booking appointments with their GP online and were confident they could get an appointment when they needed it.
They felt that being able to order repeat prescriptions online saved time for the receptionist, the doctors and themselves.
However, some people did raise concerns that not everybody is computer literate, or has access to a computer, leaving them unable to access online services.
“When you’re older you get multiple things worrying you, you can only talk about one, and then you need to make another appointment”
Many felt rushed when speaking to their GP and that only being able to speak about one thing at each appointment was restrictive.
However, some were aware that their GP practice offered double appointments for people who needed longer to discuss their concerns.
Better use of pharmacists “I think pharmacists are wonderful and we should use them a lot more than we do.”
Most people we spoke to trusted pharmacists to check their medications and felt that in most cases the pharmacist should be the first port of call instead of a GP.
They felt that this would take some of the pressure off GPs and that there should be a similar way to access services such as physiotherapy.
“When my mother had pneumonia over Christmas and New Year I think we had 10 days when I could only get hold of a GP for two of them.”
Access to out-of-hours crisis support
People told us they were concerned about access to help out-of-hours. they were worried about being able to access a doctor during bank holiday weekends when looking after vulnerable people. While some people praised the out-of-hours services in their area, others said they were just sent to A&E.
(addressing her husband) “It would be such a weight off my mind, [..] it terrifies me if you have to go in the middle of the night and me having to remember everything you’re on. I’d be really upset.”
Sharing personal health records
While many liked the idea of sharing information and felt that it would help save family members having to remember all the different types of medication they were on, others were worried that records wouldn’t be kept up-to-date or that the information would be sold to insurance companies. Most wanted their health data to be shared as long as they could check it first.
People are aware of the pressures that the healthcare system is under and would like to help. The needs of every group vary and by taking the time to hear what patients want from services, professionals can ensure people get the care they need.
Asking people about their experiences can help identify areas of good practice, as well as issues that need to be addressed to make services better.
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By Susan Robinson, National Director of Healthwatch England