Report highlights how unhappy Harlow residents are with their GP surgery

Health / Wed 15th Mar 2023 at 09:50am

A REPORT has showcased how unhappy a large number of Harlow residents are with the treatment they get from their GP surgery.

Healthwatch Essex was approached by Hertfordshire and West Essex Integrated Care System to undertake a series of projects focussing on the lived experiences of people in the area in relation to their health, care and wellbeing. This project was focussed upon gathering peoples lived experience of accessing GP services in Harlow and Uttlesford.

Here are just some of the responses. They may have only spoken to 160 residents out of 93,000 in Harlow and 89,000 in Uttlesford but the responses, apart from a few exceptions are damning.

In many reports there are always positive comments about Hamilton Practice in Bush Fair and Jenner Practice in Old Harlow.

The full report can be read here


Difficulties with the booking systems:

‘I rang 104 times before I could get through on the phone. Then I was told to try again the next day.’

‘There have been multiple occasions when I’ve struggled to get an appointment, and some where it’s been quicker to drive to the surgery rather than wait on the phone.’

‘The phone keeps you on hold for over 30 minutes and then you often get cut off.’

‘I can’t get through on the phone most of the time and when you do get through, they have a limited number of appointments for that day, and you cannot make an appointment for the future’

‘It’s far too stressful trying to get an appointment via the 8am call system. I am overdue now for a smear test and can’t face the appointment making process.’


Lack of available/prompt/appropriate appointments:

‘I was offered a phone consultation but then asked to come in after that as the phone is not sufficient but that wastes time all round due to there being two appointments. It would be better to be seen in person initially, but you are not able to get an in-person appointment.’

‘Six weeks wait for a non-urgent appointment. Then given a phone consultancy appointment and photo for a lump, which could not be seen in a photo.’

‘My mum was having some breathing difficulties, but as soon as the surgery answered the phone, the first thing they said was that there were no appointments available, and they wouldn’t be budged. I had to ring 111 who told me to say that they’d instructed me to call my GP within the hour, which I did and was then able to persuade them to let me speak to someone. However, no one was available to see her.’

‘I was asked to arrange a medication review. I was told the in-practice pharmacy could do it but they told me they were too busy and would call when they had capacity. That was over a year ago.’


Dissatisfaction with the quality of service offered:

‘Phones unanswered, phone lines continuously busy, receptionists wanting too much information before passing on information, only a phone call possible with a GP. No face-to- face appointments in two years.’

‘It’s very difficult to even get through on the phone and due to too many patients being on the books and not enough GP surgeries in Uttlesford, surgeries prefer telephone appointments over in-person.’

‘I have not been able to see a GP for over two years. The first problem is getting past the rude, obnoxious, receptionists. The second problem is a failure to triage patients. The third and key issue, there are far too many part time female GP’s – this is destroying primary healthcare. The fourth is that primary healthcare is run by, and primarily for, females.’

‘Dreadful receptionists and part time female GP’s – they are destroying primary healthcare.’

‘It can take days to get through to a GP. There are insufficient services for the area. Stop building more and more homes and none of the services to support those homes. Existing services are just being continuously stretched.’

‘I run Harlow Stroke Support – rehab centre and have had many members not being able to ring for an appointment. Some members cannot speak, but they are still offered over the phone appointments, it’s silly.’


Were you satisfied with your appointment..including the care provided?

‘Having to wait 45-60 minutes to get through is unacceptable.’

‘I just wanted a new prescription for HRT. It was sent straight to the pharmacy a few days later. Super-efficient.’

‘I had to be very insistent, and the receptionist was rude.’

‘I would’ve liked an examination rather than the doctor just asking questions.’

‘Doctors are doing their best and it’s not their fault, but I was rushed through on the phone, my prior medical history not consulted and would have preferred to have been seen in person.’

‘The hospital should have asked the GP to get in touch with me, but I had to do it, sheer lack of communication.’

‘The issue was about existing HRT treatment and I felt bullied.’

‘I was injured and needed treatment and was told to rest the injury. Having continually tried to see a GP and unable to get a face-to-face appointment, I paid to see a private physiotherapist. The physiotherapist suspected an underlying problem and gave me a referral letter – yet still I couldn’t see a GP. The private physiotherapist managed to arrange a private MRI scan, this identified significant soft tissue damage and bone fragments in my ankle. I tried to get a GP appointment, without success. I was limping for over two years, my fitness and wellbeing were significantly impacted, and I still can’t see a GP and am £1,200 out of pocket.’


We asked respondents if they had any other feedback that they would like to share about seeing a GP.

‘I am disgusted. I was sent to A&E after a telephone consultation, to wait for four hours at A&E/ Urgent health care to have the GP immediately tell me I had shingles. This could have been diagnosed by my GP surgery if they had just looked at it. This wasted hospital time, also as shingles is contagious, I was in a waiting room packed full of unwell people who could possibly have caught this from me.’
‘The new booking system at The Hamilton Practice works well; no longer staying on the phone waiting for 25 minutes.’

‘The use of virtual appointments and sending photos where appropriate is quick and easy.’

‘Why can’t we book future appointments for non-emergency appointments like we used to before Covid?’

‘A less stressful appointment making process is needed and we should be able to book in advance for non-urgent.’

‘I don’t want to be fobbed off with seeing someone else or having a phone consultation when I know I need to see the GP.’

‘Weekend and evening appointments would be a lot easier for those who work.’

‘Advertise that they have evening and weekend appointments but I am never offered them to book.’

‘A receptionist rang to say that a GP needs to talk to me about blood test results and said they would ring me in a month. Again, if I am at work, I can’t answer the phone, as no time is specified.’

‘Following a recent visit to A&E – information given to me by the surgery that directly contradicts what I was told in A&E, and the surgery refused to follow up by organising a test that A&E recommended. By text, the surgery told me to Google the health matter if I wanted more information!’

‘I appreciate the challenges the NHS is under. However, I do not like the hostile and rude attitude of those who act as the GP’s gatekeepers.’

‘The sooner we can go back to the way of working before the pandemic the better. I cannot see how telephone calls can judge what the medical conditions are without being physically seen. Especially if it turns out to be as serious as cancer!!!’

‘It’s a very professional service each time and I get my blood results back the same day as I am using My Chart on my telephone.’

‘I rarely see my GP and will only go when I have tried all other options.’ ‘Please make it easier to get through to surgery.’

‘It just seems pointless nowadays if the issue is a pertinent one and time specific then what’s the use in an appointment three weeks later when you could be dead or better already?’

‘Please make the surgery be more approachable. I don’t mind a triage system at the reception / telephone answerer, but it feels like they don’t want you to get an appointment or phone call or see anyone. It’s frustrating. Is it the surgery? Is it the number of new houses? It’s just difficult to easily access what you want. My midwife said if there were certain symptoms I noticed in pregnancy that I should contact the doctor, and my heart sank because I didn’t think I’d get the care / answer / appointment that I might need. It shouldn’t be like that.’

‘Having to talk to different GPs on different days and explain the whole thing again and again during my child’s illness is not great.’

‘I understand how busy and stretched they are. With all the development of new houses being undertaken in Uttlesford the current GP provision is too low.’

‘It would be great if I could actually see one when I need to. This would probably have meant I would have gotten the treatment I needed in the first place rather than someone guessing what was wrong with me over the phone and having pills thrown at me in the hope I went away.’

‘I feel that GPs rarely look at the whole patient as a person and seem to only look at a single symptom.’

‘They are doing their best but having had to turn some of the internal space into additional surgery rooms the waiting room is cramped, and you have to queue outside for the dispensary window. There is such a high turnover in doctors you rarely see the same one twice and there just isn’t enough appointments for a growing town. This is only going to get worse without proper investment, developers should be made to invest in local facilities, but they don’t.’

‘Getting an appointment is a nightmare. Some GPs also are not very well trained to work with children with autism.’

‘I have been with my GP practice for many years, and I have not received the care I believe would have changed my life or the way I have had to live. More emphasis on listening and empathy on some of the things I have explained would have helped. I have begged for help and after 30 years I was referred to a specialist who was appalled that one of my life changing problems had not been addressed and he sorted the problem for me and wrote to the GP and stated he was upset that a patient had been left so long without being sent down this simple route. Adding to my medical history is mental health, some of which has been caused by a similar outcome but with my children both of which nearly lost their lives due to not being listened to. This is a very serious problem and has to change and I believe in the bigger picture would save a lot of time and money over a longer period of time. But these stories need to be listened to properly!’

‘Allow a patient to discuss all things, not stop you short and deal with only one. If you do finally get an appointment with a doctor don’t be telling them what’s up without them looking it up online or even having read your notes to see what else is going on. It can be very rude.’

‘It’s impossible! There is no continuity of care, and you never see any of the partners anymore and that’s if you can get past the reception staff after holding on for almost an hour. It’s so disheartening when you are number 30 in the queue. Why can they not take on more dedicated receptionists to help this situation?’

‘People’s personal information like name and contact details aren’t protected well enough. The reception at Newport Surgery in Newport, Essex is inside the waiting room and everyone in there can hear the conversation between a patient and the receptionist. Names, phone numbers and addresses are all out there.’

‘Delays in getting consultations or appointments is unacceptable.’

‘It’s extremely frustrating not being able to see a GP, it’s frustrating that you have to tell the receptionist why you want an appointment, it’s not their business as to why you want to see a GP.’

‘It takes an age to get an appointment with anyone – excuses given by the receptionist about no-one being available, very busy etc. etc., don’t seem to hold up as the waiting room at the surgery is always empty. The reception staff, who have no medical qualifications, seem to be making clinical decisions on whether you should be allowed to see anyone. It’s unacceptable’.

‘GPs are sympathetic if you get a face-to-face appointment. But there has been ONE in the last three years. CCGs and specialists don’t talk to each other.’

‘More GPs should be working face to face. It would take the pressure of hospital and A&E.’ ‘Ten minutes is not long enough for an appointment.’

‘Rude, unhelpful, and usually inaccurate. I have had one decent experience from meeting with a GP and it was due to my eating disorder, so I was put in touch with a specialist. Every other time has been confusing, information has not been passed to me, my concerns or legitimate illnesses are brushed under the carpet alongside with the GP often being quite demeaning. Nurses however are wonderful.’

‘Telephone appointments are being offered to people when they have physical issues like unusual moles and skin cancer. Inevitably they then need a second face to face.’

‘Text messages were sent out confirming an appointment but on arrival for a face to face with a nurse I was told I had no such appointment. Having proved I had received confirmation by text I was told that the receptionist who sent it wasn’t in on that day so couldn’t check the situation with her. I had to wait three weeks before another appointment was possible.’

‘It is far too difficult to see a GP; first the only appointment is by phone then a follow up face to face, but it can take weeks. Mostly you are referred to 111 or A&E.’

‘Getting results of tests is a nightmare. You have to call after 2pm. I rang to get the results of X-rays and bloods. I was told by a receptionist ‘all OK goodbye’ which feels very unsatisfactory when I would like to discuss as I am obviously not alright – I am in pain!’

‘Whenever I have contacted the practice, I have been redirected to A&E when it was not necessary, and this was confirmed by A&E staff.’

‘The Crocus Medical Practice has gone from being ‘best in class’ to being very average. The staff are individually competent, but the patient-centred ethos has gone completely. It is run for the benefits of its staff. The patient seems to be an irrelevance – a nuisance, even.’

‘It’s disgusting that seeing the GP has turned into a lottery. It is impossible to make an appointment to see a doctor in the future, for example if you need a health check. The receptionists are very rude too.’

‘I am lucky to belong to a super-efficient, super caring GP practice.’ ‘I am extremely happy with the service from our surgery.’

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2 Comments for Report highlights how unhappy Harlow residents are with their GP surgery:

Bruce Downey
2023-03-15 17:42:36

Still very reluctant to see you face-to-face try to keep you well away, by suggesting you do everything on line…or answer some questions in a survey to update their records, which was always done in the past at the surgery by a nurse pre- pandemic.

Paul Harrison
2023-03-16 10:27:37

Let us hope they re-install a GP at The Barbara Castle Health Centre, as since our last Doctor left with no announcement about 3 years ago. I have no idea who my Doctor is, as I'm referred to Addison House and only seem to access a telephone appointment when necessary (assuming one can get through to book one). Once the 'regeneration' of the Town Centre and surrounding new homes starts, I doubt I'll never get a face to face GP appointment again.

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