Accessing Primary Care

We appreciate many people are still finding it difficult to get an appointment to see their GP. We spoke to executive chair of the primary care respiratory society and primary care nurse, Carol Stonham, for some tips to best navigate the system if you are experiencing potential lung cancer symptoms.

Lung cancer is a really scary thing and I realise a lot of people are having problems accessing their primary care practitioners at the moment so I’d like to just give some advice on probably the best way to navigate the system.

I think the first thing is to be persistent. It’s very easy to request an appointment and be brushed off and feel that that’s the end of it. It absolutely must not be the end of it so it’s up to you as the patient to make sure the person you are talking to realises what the problems are and that they are persistent and ongoing and not to brush everything aside to Covid.

Make sure you explain what your concerns are and saying the words “I think I might have cancer” are really hard but if that’s what you think is happening, it’s really important that you tell something that’s what your fear is and then you’ll be taken more seriously.

I think the other thing is to think about follow up so if you’re expecting follow up – be that an appointment for a chest x-ray, the results of some tests, a follow up phone call from your GP – if that follow up doesn’t happen then take it as your responsibility to follow that through. That may be calling your practice or calling the hospital for a chest x-ray appointment. It’s only too easy to get lost in the system. You don’t that to be you that is lost in the system so if you’re expecting an appointment, you’re expecting phone calls, you’re expecting results and you don’t get them when you think you should, be a nuisance. Be persistent and actually talk it through.

I think it’s really important to realise the pressure that GP surgeries are under at the moment. We’re been through a really difficult time. We’ve had to learn to work differently. Primary care works as a small business so if you have one two three members of staff who are unwell or are self isolating because they’ve had a positive result, there’s no redeployment. There’s no back up staff so that just leaves the team wholly depleted so they are sometimes slower in responding than they think they should.

It seems to be that every practice has a different way of making an appointment so where I’m a patient I have to do an e-consult. I have to type everything first and then wait for the surgery to contact me. I know other surgeries where you can ring and get through so you need to know what your system is and you need to follow that system as closely as you can.

When the system lets you down, call the surgery and talk to the receptionist staff. They are usually really nice people that are there to help you. Ask to speak to your clinician and if that’s not possible, make an appointment to do that.

If things really aren’t going the way you think they should be going, nobody is listening to you and you are not getting an appointment, it’s worth asking about the practice complaints policy because actually sometimes you do need to escalate these things to be taken seriously and to make things move.

All practices have a complaints policy and they should respond to complaints very quickly. If you have a clinical concern they will be very hot on that.

Be a nuisance for once. We are all so nice and polite but when our health is at risk, time really is of the essence. Be persistent. Be polite, but actually make sure that things are followed through.