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Norfolk GPs not sure how long patients wait for appointments

PUBLISHED: 10:15 24 December 2018

Doctors in Norfolk don't know how long patients are waiting for appointments. Photo: Getty Images

Doctors in Norfolk don't know how long patients are waiting for appointments. Photo: Getty Images

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Doctors in Norfolk and Waveney have no real way of knowing how long people are waiting to be seen by a GP.

Data is recorded by practices detailing how long waiting times are, but it has emerged the reliability of this data varies by surgery and despite being published by NHS Digital - which publishes official health service data - Norfolk’s NHS claims it cannot be trusted.

An NHS digital warning says there are “no national standards for data entry”.

However the figures showed 21,240 people in north Norfolk waited more than 21 days to see a doctor after booking an appointment in October 2018.

That is 20pc of all patients, which is the worst rate in England.

It also shows 19,593 people in south Norfolk, 20,313 people in west Norfolk, 12,918 people in Yarmouth and Waveney, and 16,887 people in Norwich waited more than three weeks.

However a spokesman for the Norfolk and Waveney clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) said: “The NHS has published data from GP systems which are designed for practices.

“It would be misleading to draw conclusions or comparisons.”

The clinical chairmen of the CCGs added: “Most patients understand and appreciate why there are different waiting times for appointments.

“Our GP practices are now offering 1,800 evening and weekend appointments every month across Norfolk and Waveney, making it easier to see the most appropriate clinician quickly.”

The waiting time data published by NHS Digital shows Nationally, just 10pc of patients waited an average of 21 days to see a GP in October 2018, compared to 9pc in November 2017.

However, 35,111 patients in north Norfolk, 45,317 patients in south Norfolk, 40,569 patients in west Norfolk, 53,774 patients in Yarmouth and Waveney, and 52,429 patients in Norwich were able to see a GP the same day the appointment was made.

A spokesperson for the CCGs added: “A number of patients are given appointments in four to six weeks’ time because this is when their doctor or nurse needs to see them again. This is best practice.”

Analysis: We have to be able to trust official data - to suggest we cannot is concerning

Waiting times for GP appointments are one of the top complaints heard when reporting on health.

Sometimes these moans are genuine, sometimes not.

But it seems strange that data held on how long people are waiting is not recorded uniformly across practices - which means the NHS might not be clear on how long people are waiting at all.

All data has caveats and guidance which covers the publishers back, but this revelation came to light as this newspaper enquired about the data - only to be told by Norfolk’s NHS we could not trust it, and that it would be misleading to compare the areas.

It is difficult to see how this was the case and how we could not report that one of Norfolk’s areas was the worst in the country according to the data - this is official data after all, published by the NHS’ official data provider.

If we cannot trust the data which is published, questions must be asked over why.

Geraldine Scott, health correspondent

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