How a patients group has surveyed views on Marlborough's doctors and are helping the practice
The week's news headlines reported a rise in dissatisfaction with the NHS in England. This news item came from a survey of Britain during the 2015 General Election campaign. A time when politicians made free with criticisms of and promises about the NHS.
Among those surveyed many did not live in England and even if they did may not have experienced the NHS recently or even at all. And the survey used a sample that has been tweaked to destruction for margins of error. So much for that survey.
A much more relevant survey was carried out during September and October last year by the Marlborough Medical Practice's Patient Participation Group (PPG) to test patients' views on their experience of the Practice.
When Marlborough News Online met with representatives of the PPG our first question was "How did your survey go?" - "Extremely well". They had aimed to get 100 responses: "That would have been really good."
But they got 470 responses. Most were very pleased and positive indeed with their experience at the practice. The responses contained, a PPG member said: "An astonishing amount of feedback - most of it positive. Over eighty per cent either positive or constructive."
PPG members handed out questionnaires at the surgery's flu jab clinics and at Tesco - where one woman told them: "I don't need to fill one in I'm very happy with the surgery."
The survey was also available online. PPG members have decided that some of their questions could have been better phrased and some people skipped placing various elements of the surgery's current and possible future services in order of priority.
However, that question did reveal one important point. While patients are in favour of the surgery opening for appointments on Saturdays, they were against Sunday opening. This fits with national surveys and blows something of a hole in the government's expensive policy for a seven-day health service.
The practice doctor who is a member of the PPG, Dr Jenny Campbell, says the survey has had a really positive response from the partners: "We've had a really positive discussion about the issues it raises. Seeing everything from the patients' viewpoint is important. Some of them are small things - the niggles - and being able to change them is just great."
Among the niggles revealed by the survey are the locked doors to the waiting room (doors the doctors never use so do not see the problems caused to those with pushchairs or who are disabled) and the fact that the surgery is thought by some to be closed completely during the lunch hour (it is not, but a notice implies it is.) These and other points are now on the 'Action List'.
One fact revealed by the survey is that too few people know they can book appointments online - and not enough people use this new facility which cuts down waiting at busy times for 'phone calls to be answered.
Some points raised by the survey are beyond immediate cure - such as parking. Others are 'urban myths' that the PPG can help dispel.
Some issues are, of course, much more difficult to resolve. The survey showed people value continuity - i.e. seeing the same doctor at every appointment - but also want choice of their GP. As absolutes these are considered to be mutually exclusive and incompatible.
Dr Campbell explains: "There is a lack of understanding about how the system works."
The PPG agrees with doctors that spreading the word about new NHS developments, about on line services, about the difficulties practices across the country are having in recruiting doctors and about restricted NHS resources.
As pressures on the NHS continue to grow and its funding does not keep up with demand, people in Wiltshire will need to understand what services are available and where they are. The PPG say they believe they can help people to understand how the system is changing.
The PPG's Chair, Amanda Giles, pointed out that they were still in at a formative stage: "We need to help maximise what we can get from the practice - and we have to understand what doctors have to do besides seeing patients at the surgery and help everyone understand that."
And Dr Campbell said: "If at the end of the day people understand the limitations we have to work with - that would be a real success for the PPG."
The NHS will be changing over the coming years as funding dips again and people need to know from their PPG how they can still get the best out of the service.
The full and short versions of the survey report can be found here.
One area where the PPG are spreading the word is on missed appointments, which hamper the service the practice can give and waste time. During 2015 patients did not attend 2,221 booked appointments at the Marlborough Medical Practice.
That is an average of 8.5 no-shows every day or eight appointments that could have been booked by a patient who really wanted or needed to show up.
The Marlborough Medical Practice has about 12,000 patients on its books - the number varies. Last week the count was 11,642 registered patients. Making sure that number of patients can get appointments when they need them or when it suits them - fitting round working hours, school hours and so on - is difficult enough without all those no shows.