When you’re lucky enough to get an early appointment, you’re banking on not having to wait hours to actually see the doctor; which is usually the case in my local surgery. For example it’s not unknown to wait at least an hour or more past your allocated appointment time of 9.20am, even though the surgery opened at 8.00am, only 80 minutes previously.
How can they accumulate such a backlog in such a short space of time? Especially since we’re each only allowed 10 minute appointments?
The answer is fairly simple but full of vagaries and differing permutations;
- The surgery opens its doors at 8.00am and the first appointment is at the same time. For both doctors. And two nurses.
- The queue of patients stream through the door (there’s always a queue) and it’s obvious that some are here to see one of the two doctors and others are here to see one of the two nurses. So that accounts for four patients with appointments at 8.00am.
- But there at least twelve patients in the queue. Why are the extra eight people here?
- It soon becomes apparent. They’ve arrived for their appointments early, because the practice advises everyone to arrive 10 minutes before their allocated appointment “to enable check in”. Considering check in only takes 30 seconds per patient on the computer screen in the waiting room, this is something of a misnomer.
- In addition, some of the patients have a partner/friend/carer with them. That should account for the total numbers.
- But we have to factor in those folk who like to arrive very early for any appointment anywhere (not just doctors) and will arrive an hour before they’ve been asked to. Older people tend to do this and when asked why, they usually reply “Just in case”, “To miss the traffic”, “Never sure how long it will take” (despite making the exact same trip many, many times before) or a myriad of other reasons – most of which are nonsensical.
- Then the doctors and nurses arrive. The surgery opened at 8.00 and the only member of staff on the premises is the receptionist who has switched everything on and opened the doors.
- After the obligatory making of tea, coffee and chats about what everyone did over the weekend/yesterday evening/on their holidays/what they’re doing tomorrow or how the characters in “Doctors” are faring, they all repair to their individual consultation rooms and close the doors; firmly. None of them have made eye contact with a patient at this stage.
- Nothing seemingly happens for a while. All the patients in the waiting room pretend not to be bothered but most are seething, especially the ones who arrived on time and have somewhere important to be. After all it’s only supposed to be a 10 minute appointment isn’t it?
- The folk who have already arrived for their 9.20am appointments relax and read whatever magazine is littering the tables, resplendent in the knowledge that their appointment is secure and will be on time. The magazine choice usually consists of “Horse & Groom”, “Woman’s Weekly”, “Optician Today ” (?) or something that’s usually not applicable to the local area’s demographic. Why is there never a copy of “The Lancet” or “Viz” available?
- Then it happens. Doors open about 8.30am and patients are called into rooms for their consultation or treatment. The number of people in the waiting room should have decreased by a total of four people, but this is not the case. There have been three separate appointment times (8.10, 8.20 and 8.30) for four separate consultation rooms that have been and gone and people have arrived for their appointments and are surprised to find a packed waiting room and it’s standing room only.
- And so it continues for the rest of the morning. No specified appointment times are actually met, but there is always a sign on the waiting room wall stating how many missed appointments there have been in the previous month and berating us all on our tardiness in not informing the surgery that we no longer needed our booked appointment – which could have been given to another patient; to sit for hours in the waiting room. But strangely never any mention of the % of specified appointment times actually fulfilled by the doctors and nurses. Funny that.
All of this is unfortunate for people who have to be somewhere else, but who have learned that a 8.30am appointment usually means seeing the doctor or nurse at about 9.00am. Ish. But they also can’t take the risk of turning up late and having the term “DNA” emblazoned onto their record, plus the ignomy of receiving a text from the surgery confirming their tardiness and then also having to wait another few days to get another appointment.
But for writers this is gold dust. Nothing to do but observe others’ behaviour, earwig their conversations and start the writing process.
I’m fortunate to have a doctors surgery close by and one that provides a high level of clinical care despite this Government’s attempts to constantly batter them and reduce the level of local services in it’s ongoing determination to privatise as much of the NHS as possible, but that’s a story for another day.