Patients in Tonbridge demand longer doctor's surgery hours
PATIENTS in Tonbridge have demanded longer surgery opening hours so they can get appointments with their GP.
The issue has emerged as the top concern for patients, with opening hours at the town's five clinics – plus those in Hildenborough, Leigh and Hadlow – being given an average rating of just 3.6 out of ten in a survey on an NHS website.
Four of the five Tonbridge surgeries have lunch breaks of more than three hours, while just three offer appointments later than 6.30pm – and even then only on selected days.
Hildenborough resident Jean Selmes described the lack of evening appointments as "crazy".
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Ms Selmes, who commutes from Hawden Close to her local government job in south London each day, said: "It's just appalling the service that you get from the surgeries in terms of appointments.
"I work full-time and it's virtually impossible to get an appointment that fits in with working hours. I have to take time off, or try and book when I have a day's leave.
"My employer is quite flexible, but the doctors aren't flexible. There's no real appreciation of the difficulties faced by people who work."
She added: "Occasionally you can get an appointment on a Saturday but they tend to fill up with people who can go any time. People who work should have a reserved time."
John Ashelford, chairman of independent healthcare group Kent LINk, sympathised with frustrated patients like Ms Selmes but said he was surprised to hear how low the scores were.
Mr Ashelford, of London Road, Tonbridge, said: "Being chairman of Kent LINk, I'm concerned. These scores are out of ten and anything less than half looks like it needs to be reviewed.
"If the feeling of so many people is that they are seriously disadvantaged by there not being a late evening, there may well be a case to ask GPs to look at the possibility of having one night a week at least where they can be open later.
"You have to say it would be a worthwhile exercise."
He added: "I have lived in Tonbridge for a long time; I've always found the GPs accommodating and I've always been in business. It's a challenge to get the balance right.
"I would be interested to see how the national figures compare and also to find out if patients in East Kent are making the same complaints as those in West Kent."
The problems with securing appointments were recorded on the NHS Choices website, which invites patients to give feedback on the services they receive in their communities.
An NHS Kent and Medway spokeswoman explained that surgeries operate under national contracts requiring them to provide medical cover between 8am and 6.30pm, Monday to Friday.
She said: "The contract does not say the practice has to be open to see patients for booked appointments throughout this entire time period.
"As well as appointments, GPs have admin to complete, such as issuing repeat prescriptions. They also hold case reviews and multi-disciplinary meetings (and) have home visits to undertake and provide telephone advice to patients.
"GPs need to devote time to all of these duties to meet the contract requirements and to deliver good quality care. Each GP practice will determine its own opening hours in which to run clinics."
Marion Marshall, practice administrator at Hadlow Medical Centre which was rated 2.7 out of 10, said: "We are a small village practice and we don't offer the extended opening hours that a larger, urban practice would do, so it is hardly surprising our score is as it is.
"Our overall scores based on the same document show the patient experience is listed as 98.58 with a Gold position. That is what our patients think."
The practice manager for Leigh, Hildenborough and Trenchwood declined to comment.
There was also no response fromWarders, Higham Lane, Church Lane or Pembury Road surgeries.