Beechwood Surgery, Brentwood - Open Letter to the Secretary of State for Health Matthew Hancock MP, From Cllrs Karen Chilvers, Nigel Clarke, Mark Haigh, David Kendall, and Dominic Naylor

September 19, 2018 7:56 AM
By Karen Chilvers, Nigel Clarke, Mark Haigh, David Kendall, Dominic Naylor

Dear Mr Hancock

Re: Beechwood Surgery, Pastoral Way, Brentwood, Essex CM14 5FW

The purpose of this letter is to highlight serious concerns we, as five elected councillors representing over 10,000 people in Brentwood, Essex, have regarding our borough's largest GP practice.

Beechwood Surgery, Pastoral Way, Brentwood - with Dominic Naylor

We have, at this point, exhausted accepted complaints processes. The GP surgery has refused to engage with us, even when a request was made by NHS England, and with NHS England and the Health Ombudsman unable to help we feel that it is our duty and responsibility to raise this matter at the highest level and trust in your department to take the appropriate steps to investigate. Our aim is to make the surgery aware of the issues and help them to resolve them and that is why we are sad they will not engage.

Although problems with this surgery, specifically the ability to get to see a doctor, have been the subject of hearsay for four years, it was during the May 2018 local elections that we began to realise the extent of the problem as dozens of residents in the wards of Brentwood West and Warley, within the catchment area for the surgery, confided in us when we knocked on their doors, asking us to help.

We promised we would, and we will make their voices heard. Subsequently, we asked for them to send us evidence and they did, again in high numbers.

The appointment system at Beechwood is failing and letting patients down. The current state of play is that:

  • Waits for appointments are currently at seven weeks,
  • No bookable appointments are available on their patient website,
  • Appointments not offered before 9am,
  • No emergency appointments are offered or priority appointments made available for those with complex or long-term health problems.

On the last point, this is particularly unacceptable. Patients with long term health conditions need to be able to see their doctor in a timely fashion. Those with conditions such as diabetes, arthritis and heart problems cope well, as a rule, but when things become more acute, it's not always urgent enough to require a trip to A&E but nor is it appropriate for them to wait for nearly two months or be required to ring up every day to plead for an appointment. After all, these conditions often must be managed in conjunction with work and/or family commitments. Our fear is that this will lead to more severe complications for them.

What is enormously disappointing is that the surgery blames patients for the long waits for appointments, saying they didn't cancel them. Of course, the flaw in this argument is that the missed appointments have not yet been missed, it is something yet to occur and not the reason for a seven-week wait. Further, as far as we are aware, the surgery does not keep records of those that couldn't be accommodated and reacts with shock and incredulity when they are told that patients can't get appointments within a reasonable time frame.

Residents also reported, and two of us have first hand experience of this, that the practice is routinely sending patients to A&E or the Polyclinic in Harold Wood (4 miles away and half a mile from the bus stop/train station) with no regard for how they get there, or they are instructed to attend A&E at Basildon University Hospital (10 miles away) or Queen's Hospital in Romford (7 miles away) for complaints such as ear infections. Serious yes, but easily sorted with a simple prescription and maybe not the right reason to clog up already overstretched emergency services. Patients have told us that they sometimes wait until 6.30pm and get a prescription from the efficient 111 service. Those with funds to do so have taken to paying for private GPs.

There are many consequences of the failings of a GP appointment system and, here, we simply report what we have been told by Brentwood West and Warley residents who are patients at Beechwood:

  • A patient waiting a month for an urgent podiatry referral for a diabetic foot ulcer,
  • Crucial appointments for consultant-ordered treatments, to be undertaken in primary care cancelled on the day,
  • A patient being left for nine hours in need of a prescription for painkillers as indicated by a paramedic, also refusing to speak to the paramedic,
  • A patient arriving ten minutes early for an appointment, waiting 15 minutes to check in and then being sent away for being late,
  • A patient being told he could not book an appointment at the desk and being sent outside to call in, only for the one appointment available to have been taken by the time his call was answered,
  • A patient eventually stopping their treatment due to non-availability of appointments, at detriment to their health,
  • Patients with high temperatures, long term conditions and recent seizures being refused an appointment.
  • Prescription requests, referral requests and notes from patients and consultants being lost,

We were further concerned to note that in the NHS England Patient Survey 2018 data released in August that the surgery is ranked 6567 out of 7109 surgeries in England - in the bottom 10% in England alone.

That same survey shows us that this is not a 'Brentwood problem' but a problem specific to this surgery:

  • At Beechwood surgery only 26% of respondents describe their experience of making an appointment as good. The local (CCG) average is 62% and the national average is 69%.
  • Only 35% of Beechwood respondents find it easy to get through by phone. The local (CCG) average is 66% and the national average is 70%,
  • At Beechwood, only 30% of respondents are satisfied with the general practice appointment times available. The local (CCG) average is 69% and the national average is 66%.

As those who represent the patients of Beechwood Surgery we have a responsibility to highlight this in order that the surgery can be helped to improve and offer the service that patients should expect and we now feel the best way to do this is to leave it in your hands to filter down to the appropriate body as we are thwarted at every turn locally.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Karen Chilvers

Brentwood West Ward

Cllr Nigel Clarke

Warley Ward

Cllr Mark Haigh

Warley Ward

Cllr David Kendall

Brentwood South County Division

Cllr Dominic Naylor

Brentwood West Ward