Hospital booking system a 'failure'
A SYSTEM meant to transform the way hospital appointments are made is failing local patients.The government's much-vaunted Choose and Book system is supposed to allow patients who have been referred for hospital treatment to make an appointment at the hospital of their choice at a time and date that suits them.
A SYSTEM meant to transform the way hospital appointments are made is failing local patients.
The government's much-vaunted Choose and Book system is supposed to allow patients who have been referred for hospital treatment to make an appointment at the hospital of their choice at a time and date that suits them.
But there has been a catalogue of complaints about the system, including patients being unable to get through and the wrong information being held on the national system. The problems have affected people using all three of Norfolk's hospitals - in Norwich, King's Lynn and Gorleston - including both NHS Norfolk and NHS Yarmouth and Waveney patients.
Both the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and NHS Norfolk agree the system is causing problems and have contacted the East of England Strategic Health Authority and Connecting for Health, which runs Choose and Book, with their concerns. The problems centre round the national appointments line, based in Milton Keynes, which is run by NHS Direct.
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N&N spokesman Andrew Stronach said: “We have got many concerns about the telephone appointments line that is run centrally. Feedback from GPs and patients is that they have had lots of difficulties getting through and when they have got through the information is not always correct, which has not been helpful.
“One person was told our gastroenterology department wasn't open to choose and book, when it has been since August 2007.”
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He said a “constructive” meeting was held with NHS Direct to look at how the system could be improved.
An NHS Norfolk spokesman said: “We are aware patients in Norfolk have problems accessing the national telephone help line to book their appointments. They experience quite often high call volumes. There is no message system, so patients have to ring back. Once patients go through it has been identified that there is no slot available. That then comes back to us as an issue to deal with.”
She added that there had been some improvement recently.
North Norfolk MP and Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “I have had complaints from both constituents and doctors about it. The problems are causing immense frustration for both patients and GPs. What causes me most concern is people who are already frail and are trying to cope with a system not working properly and makes access to hospital more difficult just at the time when we are under a lot of strain and you need things to work smoothly.
“This is a much-heralded system to deliver choice and power to the patients but it seems to be doing neither.”
There are also issues around whether GPs are using the system properly. Some are giving their patients the national phone number instead of giving them the chance of booking an appointment while they are still at the surgery - and whether there are enough slots available at the hospitals to meet demand. Take-up of the Choose and Book system from GPs is also
Victoria Nicholls, 30, from Lowestoft, has been trying to use Choose and Book for an appointment with the dermatology department at James Paget University Hospital, Gorleston, through Choose and Book since the beginning of August.
She was not given the chance to book an appointment while still at her GP - which is how the system is supposed to work - but had to wait for a password to arrive by post.
She said: “I was told I could do it over the internet, but the system wouldn't let me. I tried phoning a few times and but it kept saying no-one was available, please try later. When I finally got through at the end of August, all they said was - there aren't any appointments and wait for the hospital to contact you by letter. I haven't heard anything.”
A Department of Health and NHS Direct spokesman said: “When the service is experiencing high call volumes, patients will receive a message telling them the service is busy and asking them to call back.
“During May the service did experience a technical problem which was quickly rectified, but some patients would have received an engaged tone.
“Managing demand for services is a shared responsibility between primary care trusts and providers and they need to work together to ensure patients are treated at their choice of provider and are able to book their appointment electronically.
“There is a documented national process that provides guidance to GPs, hospitals and the telephone appointments line to ensure patients receive correct information. This has been recently revised working with all stakeholders involved in the process.”