The ability to make an appointment to see your GP easily and at a convenient time is one of the best aspects of the NHS. So when it is difficult, as it has been for too long since the pandemic ended, people get angry, as my email inbox has testified over recent months.
I have been speaking to the Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board, who are responsible for NHS services in our area. This new body has existed for the last 11 months and has to get to grips with some of the obvious difficulties in local services.
The ICB says that despite a net fall in the number of GPs of around one hundred in the past two years (across Kent and Medway) the number of available appointments has been increase by more than 140,000 a month.
Of those who have an appointment, 40% are seen on the same day, and 68% within seven days. Many people prefer a face-to-face appointment, which is some cases are necessary for proper diagnosis. At the moment around 69% of appointments are done in this way.
I know many people have been frustrated by the inability of their surgery to answer the phone promptly. Advanced systems are the answer to this, and 96% of practices now have an up-to-date telephony system.
There are still real issues, notably the need for more GPs. The national target is for 6,000 extra GPs, and Ashford needs at least its fair share of those. The ICB is working on new models for GPs and staff so that the offer in this part of the world is more attractive.
This is inevitably a long process, but it is a vital one, and I am determined to keep up the pressure so that people are not frustrated at a time when they may in any case be feeling at their most vulnerable.