BU Doctors – Why is it so hard to get an appointment?

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Only 7,000 of Bournemouth University’s 17,000 students are enrolled at Talbot Campus Medical Centre, so why is it so difficult to book a same day appointment?

With the number of GP consultations increasing by 24% since 1998, a result of the rising population, 8% of doctor’s posts in the UK are currently unfilled. This has a knock on effect on GP practises as they allow new patients to enrol at their surgeries. Figures show that in 2014, 104 GP practices applied to the NHS authorities for permission to stop taking on new patients, double 2012’s figures.

The Student Medical Centre located on Talbot campus is a smaller branch connected to Talbot Medical Centre on Kinson Road. At present there is no system to prioritise students with a greater need to see the doctors.

The current practise at BU requires students to call at 8.45am on the day they want an emergency appointment.

Elena Hookins a second year law student at BU experienced inconveniences as she fell ill later in the day.

I thought I had tonsillitis around 3pm and wanted to see a doctor but, I knew I wouldn’t be able to go the doctors that day which was frustrating.

Emma Baker a second year English student, has also been deterred from attempts to book an appointment due to difficulties in getting through to the receptionist at 8.45am.

It’s really frustrating having to fight for appointments early in the morning, especially when half the people that ring up are going for non-emergencies. I’ve had serious injuries with my foot and it would have been nice to know there was a good chance of getting an appointment.

The Student Medical Centre has two phones lines with two receptionists on the phones each morning.

Judith Young, the Talbot Medical Centre Practise Manager explained the current structure of the student surgery: “Every morning we have one doctor, one practice nurse, and one nurse practitioner. The doctor offers 18 appointments.”

The practice nurse offers 22 appointments and the nurse practitioner offers 16 appointments. In the afternoon, we have one doctor but sometimes two, offering 18 appointments. There is also the practice nurse offering 16 appointments.”

Sarah Faulkner, the Deputy Practise Manager added the surgery is aware of problems and they are trying to improve the structure of booking appointments: We used to only offer three pre-booked appointments a day but these went very quickly, so now half of all appointments are reserved for the on the day booking and the other half for advance bookings.”

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) published new league tables at the end of 2014 predicting that there is likely to be a shortage of more than 400 local doctors in our communities by the start of the next decade.

If it were financially possible would they like to take on more doctors for the practise?

Judith Young said it’s not about the money but the workload and pressure associated with being a GP. She continued: “No matter what you offer we will always be full, it’s the same across all surgeries, and there will never be enough doctors.”

The Government has committed to train 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

reece pope

Reece Pope: VP Welfare at BU

Reece Pope the Vice President of welfare for BU’s Student Union (SUBU) says: “It is very important for students to receive quick medical advice, the pressure a student is under whilst at University can be very daunting and therefore if they have issues that cannot be eased promptly the stress this can put someone under is likely to have a direct impact on their studies.”

He believes the process for same day appointments needs to be reviewed: “Even if you were simply put into a queue when you call rather than simply having to keep trying would be a good start and help alleviate the frustration.”

The idea of putting a queue system in place in order to prioritise the emergencies isn’t easy to enforce. Sarah Faulkner said: “All surgeries face these issues and you can’t tell a patient they are not as important as anyone else.”

The Talbot Medical Centre raised their own concerns with students not turning up to booked appointments and wasting doctors time that could be used for another patient in need. Dr Holmes said:

10% of booked appointments across both medical centres do not show up which equates to up to a week’s worth of one doctor’s time that are wasted.

Reece said they have very few students coming to comment on the medical centre. Talbot medical centre’s 2014 quality report showed that 92% of the 296 patients who answered rated the service as good or very good. The centre was praised for understanding the various needs of the population.

When Reece was asked his thoughts on how the students’ needs can be better met in regards to ease of booking an appointment, he said: “I believe that a simple phone queue system would help students know whether they can get an appointment rather than repeatedly calling and then finding out after calling for 15 minutes that there are no more available appointments.” Reece has made this suggestion to the head of student support services and has not yet heard back from them.

Not all UK universities have a medical centre on campus, however students from universities that do say that some aspects could be improved.

Robert Ryan, a Law student at Warwick University said: “I’ve only needed to go to the doctors twice, however it is good making appointments over the phone because it is convenient and I have been able to get on the day appointments easily. The only issue is you can’t book in advance which is irritating.”

Sarah Adeniji, an Economics, politics and IR student at Oxford Brookes said:

My surgery is really quick at seeing to people. There are two drop in nurses’ everyday between 9-12, you don’t ever need to book.

Ellie Clifford, a History student from King’s College London said: “The surgery tends to pick up the phone on the first call but the wait time can be an absolute joke, King’s run a drop in between 11-1 which means you don’t have to make an appointment but that you can be waiting a while to be seen.”

Judith Young confirmed that Talbot Campus Medical Centre does accept advance bookings, but says they fluctuate on demand, however, you can usually book appointment for four days in advance of the day calling, something perhaps BU students are not aware of.

Talbot Medical Centre at BU.

Talbot Medical Centre at BU.

Bournemouth University students appear to like the idea of introducing a drop in service that is used at other universities.

Hannah Pigott, studying English said: “It’s a silly system currently that you have to ring up at 8.45 on the dot or else you’ll struggle to get an appointment.”

By introducing the drop in structure more students have the potential to be seen.

When Practise Manager Judith Young was asked her thoughts on introducing a drop in session for emergency patients on Talbot Campus she stated that the Student Medical Centre would be overwhelmed and Dr Holmes expressed concerns over capacity.

However, the Talbot Medical Centre in Wallisdown, a larger site, offers an emergency surgery to all registered patients, which runs from 9am-11am and from 3pm-5pm every weekday. Sarah Faulkner said this is for patients with an urgent medical need. Judith Young stressed: “Students need to ring first before an emergency drop in and those patients who require attention that day urgently will not be turned away.

Hannah Butters, an English student, questioned students with non-emergencies taking the emergency slots: “There are a lot of reasons people see the doctor for non-emergency situations through on the day bookings, so having the drop in session could prove to be a handy system. Drop in sessions would allow the doctors to prioritise who should be seen first.”

How patients can help to clear the phone lines for emergency appointments?

Dr Holmes advised being flexible and where patients feel comfortable, explain health concerns to the receptionists who are there to advise you on other ways you can seek treatment, such as going to pharmacists where they may seek advice quicker.

Emma Baker and Elena Hookins say if they had known about the Talbot Medical Centre’s urgent drop in centre, both may have had their medical needs dealt with quicker.

What to take from this?

  • Dr Holmes says: “Plan ahead. Avoid phones at 8.45 unless it is an urgent medical issue”
  • Sarah Faulkner says students should understand the system and use appropriately by booking online or in advance for non-urgent needs and understanding that repeat prescriptions do not need an appointment, the pressure on phone lines in the morning should be alleviated.
  • Attend booked appointments and call the surgery if you are no longer able to attend.

Students are not obliged to register at the Student Medical Centre but are free to choose another medical practise if they wish.

If you have any comments or ideas relating to issues regarding booking a doctor’s appointment Reece from SUBU welfare is happy to hear any suggestions for improving the service. This can be done by emailing suvpwelfare@bournemouth.ac.uk or by going into the SUBU Office in Poole House.

The medical centre website says that they are looking for people to take part in a representative patient group, the form to take part can be downloaded here.