'Lives are at risk'-Patients' concerns over surgery appointment struggles

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been following up complaints about the Thorpe Health Centre 

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has been following up complaints about the Thorpe Health Centre - Credit: Bob Marshall/Google Maps

Patients have spoken about their struggles to book an appointment at an understaffed surgery with one man laying down in a lobby entrance as a form of protest. 

This newspaper has been contacted by those concerned about being unable to see a doctor at Thorpe Health Centre in St. Williams Way, Thorpe St Andrew, which is part of the East Norwich Medical Partnership.

Patients have spoken about the shutters being down at the surgery's reception, with many receiving computerised responses as they try to book an appointment.

The medical group distributed a letter to people living in the Thorpe St Andrew and Sprowston area to say there had been "an unprecedented number of communications" over the last four months.

This includes an additional 14,500 calls and requests based upon the Covid vaccination programme.

The East Norwich Medical Partnership was formed in July 2009 from the former Willow Wood Surgery at Aslake Close in Sprowston, and the Sprowston-Thorpe Medical Partnership based in both St. William's Way, Thorpe St. Andrew and Aslake Close in Sprowston.

Stephen Elvin, 72, said he had to step over a man laying down in protest in the lobby at the entrance of the Aslake Close surgery last Friday as he was trying to make an appointment for a flu jab. 

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Mr Elvin said: "I had to go to Sprowston as I could not even put a prescription in at Thorpe. I can't imagine being turned away from a hotel because there is no-one there to help you.

"I had to step over this bloke who was probably at the end of his tether. I went down another day and a man in his 80s was shouting from the door saying he just wanted to ask a question.

"Its madness and like we have gone to hell in a handcart. It's easier to get an audience with the pope than it is to see a doctor." 

Thorpe Health Centre, part of the East Norwich Medical Partnership

Thorpe Health Centre, part of the East Norwich Medical Partnership - Credit: Google Maps

Mr Elvin said he was asked to do an asthma check over the phone due to the lack of available appointments.

"I have been going to the surgery for 35 to 40 years and this is the worst it has ever been," Mr Elvin added.

Another 74-year-old patient at the surgery, who did not wish to be named, said his wife had been waiting three-and-a-half-weeks for an appointment. She has an urinal tract infection and possible sepsis. 

He added: "There were originally 10 doctors at the surgery 10-years-ago but now there are seven and three of them are part-time.

"There are around 16,000 patients which works out as more than 3,000 people per doctor.

"I had to ring 111 on Monday to get a prescription report from the ambulance. I have got a chest infection and COPD but I had to ring the 111 service.

"When I rang the surgery, they did not know my medical history but luckily I could remember.

"The reception staff left the Thorpe surgery months ago and have not been replaced. Lives are being put at risk."

Patients spoke about being met with automated messages as they struggled to get through to a human operator when calling the surgery.

The medical group recently introduced e-Consult as a "main point of contact" for any health problems. 

It said those who cannot access the internet or devices can phone the receptionist team to get signposted to the appropriate department.

A statement from the practice manager distributed to patients said: "We believe e-Consult is a strong system for us to be able to meet all requests in a timely fashion.

"The doctors experience less time in identifying problems, allowing more time to look at solutions."

But a spokesman for the Care Quality Commission (CQC) said: "I can confirm that patients of East Norwich Medical Practice have shared concerns with us about accessing the service.

"We contacted the practice regarding this. It told us it is working with the local clinical commissioning group to implement improvements.

"We continue to monitor the service closely." 

What has the MP said? 

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said she has helped constituents for some time with concerns about the Thorpe St Andrew surgery.

She recently met the practice and the local health authority to get explanations and offer support in resolving the problems frustrating patients.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has got a new government job. Picture: Boo Marshall Photography

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith has got a new government job. Picture: Boo Marshall Photography - Credit: Boo Marshall

Ms Smith said: "They have committed to making improvements. Nationally, there is funding and extensive support to help doctors’ surgeries put on all the appointments that people need. 

"I would strongly advise any surgery that needs receptionists to recruit people through the Jobcentre where thousands of local people are looking for work.

“I have been campaigning for the right level of doctor and dentist provision for today’s and tomorrow’s residents, as homes are built in our area.

"This is coming good as there are now plans in Sprowston for an extension to the doctor’s surgery.”