Opinion: Pauline Farrance – Why are we having to queue to see a GP?

Cllr Pauline Farrance

Pauline Farrance is a Thanet District councillor and a founder member of Save Our NHS in Kent (SONIK).Here she talks about the issue of being able to get a GP appointment:

The NHS is in crisis but, in Thanet, things are particularly tough. In some GP surgeries it is almost impossible to get an appointment.

I’ve seen patients queuing in long lines from 7am, on wet and windy winter days, to try to get an appointment. And at some surgeries people have found that those in the queue will be prioritised over telephone requests for appointments.

So, does this mean if you’re well enough to stand around in the cold and wet, you take precedence over someone too sick or elderly to do that?

In at least one surgery in Thanet, each GP is responsible for over 5,000 patients – compared to as little at 1,200 in some other areas.  Why are things so difficult in Thanet?

(In writing this article, I must make it clear that this is in no way a criticism of the hard-working staff in our surgeries and hospitals. But the system just isn’t working.)

In one case at the end of last year, a 91-year-old woman gave up on getting an appointment by phone with her GP and got a taxi to the Accident and Emergency department at Margate’s QEQM Hospital.

She was worried about pains in her head and neck.  She was given a thorough examination at A&E, being seen by different doctors as she had a number of health concerns.  These hard-working and conscientious doctors were so concerned about her that they organised urgent referrals to two different hospital departments, one in Canterbury and one in QEQM.   When the patient attended these two appointments two weeks later, no further treatment was required.

Had this elderly woman been able to get an appointment with her GP, the urgent referrals would not have been necessary, as the GP knew her and had her records.

This was not only wasting time in A&E, but also the two urgent specialist appointments – estimated by the NHS – at a cost of £160 each.

The woman also reported that the nurse in A&E told her that five other patients were in A&E because they couldn’t get GP appointments.

To me, this is a perfect – but very troubling – example of the problem with surgeries here not being able to give GP appointments.

Other problems arise because doctors are simply unable to spend time understanding patients’ problems, and are also struggling with patients with mental health issues.

Until recently, I worked in a university which is well-known for providing specialist support for high-functioning autistic students who often experience mental health difficulties as well.

This is one such local patient’s experience as he told it to me:

‘He also told me my autism is unimportant’

“While I was trying to access support for autism and related issues, my doctor was unhelpful, even obstructive. He just didn’t seem to understand.

“He also told me my autism is unimportant. In a way that is true, but at the time I had severe anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and frequent fits, all of which were related to my autism.

“I saw, too, on a report for the Department of Work and Pensions my doctor wrote that I have learning difficulties. In fact the opposite is true. My academic qualifications are of a very high standard.

“Because of the tablets I take for my blood pressure, my blood pressure is monitored regularly. I also have regular blood tests to make sure the tablets haven’t affected my liver and kidneys.

“At my previous GP surgery the regular blood tests didn’t happen. When I transferred to my present surgery they picked up on this and called me straight in for a blood test. They found I had folic acid anaemia, a hangover from the time I couldn’t afford enough food. I have had regular blood and blood pressure tests ever since.

“I became frightened of having to see my doctor because of his attitude. Also the receptionists were evidently stressed up to the eyeballs and very snappy. That’s why I changed my doctor. At my new surgery it is quite the opposite. The receptionists are calm and very helpful. The atmosphere is altogether much nicer, and it is much easier to make an appointment.”

Contact me

Why should GP surgeries, less than 3 miles apart, offer such a different service?  GPs are a vital front line in the NHS. If you can’t get an appointment or are scared of your doctor, your health will suffer.

I am compiling case studies of patient’s problems in Thanet so please contact me if you have a story to tell at [email protected]

Read here: All five Ramsgate GP surgeries are managing patient lists due to ‘clinical safety reasons’


  1. We need a public meeting to discuss our views
    Still you can’t even get a dentist
    2 years waiting list
    No one is training here to be doctors
    Can we action a meds school here in Thanet
    Building 38 houses nearby will increase the pressure but I am not happy with miles and Barr and they need to know we can’t cope

    • There is a medical school in conjunction with Christ Church University being set up at the Christ Church site at Broadstairs.
      Students are starting in September and will be doing work experience at my surgery.

  2. Kent health officers were unaware of queueing issues when I raised it last week at thanet briefing on health, we in Thanet are being treated as second class citizens while the money is being spent elsewhere in kent, no queues in west kent, stroke units moved out of Margate.tonbridge and surrounding areas are given resources while life expectancies in thanet lag 20years behind

    • Hello Barry. As you are KCC councillor, please can you get the KCC Health and Overview Scrutiny committee to scrutinise the problems for Thanet residents getting GP appts?
      I observed the last CCG Gov body meeting on 30 January along with other SONIK members and I raised the issue. The Gov body Members were aware but didn’t seem to know how bad it really was. They are looking into it. Suggest you follow up as well – everyone needs to complain to the CCG members and our MPs!

  3. No doubt Johnson and Cummings will be welcoming Covid-19 to the UK to help reduce the elderly, young and infirm off NHS GP’s lists. EKHT NHS can’t even manage its service to the public now, near special measures et al – a pandemic will finish us all off. “Bring out your dead”

  4. At my surgery you get asked if the doctor has asked to see you when you call up to ask for an appointment.

    Lack of GP availability, and absurd booking and queuing/urgent appointments only in Thanet is literally terrifying.

    When NHS or public sector areas struggled to attract people, employers went on targeted and sustainable recruitment campaigns. Why does the NHS no longer do this?

    If I called my GP today, I would be td there are zero appointments. All I can do is queue as an emergency. This strategy offers nothing for those of us managing long term conditions which require a GP visit from time to time but which are not emergencies.

    It is an awful situation and it simply cannot be down to austerity or cuts. Much of it must be down to how we train, attract, hire and retain staff. If it were only austerity then how come you can get a GP appointment if you live in London. Which you can. Easily.

  5. I have had an ear problem since Christmas 2019. It has been treated with antibiotics three times, I have had a test for a hearing aid (?)… I’m not deaf, as it clears when I do the Frenzel equalise manoeuvre (pinch nose, close mouth, try to breath out).
    Today I got one of NHS’s super booking online letters with a choice of four centres to visit. QEQM no chance, Canterbury KCH, May 1st !!! The other two were too far away.
    I believe the NHS are surviving merely on Bullshot.

  6. Save our NHS in Kent are again being the voice for patients. What a wonderful group of people. Let’s hope this survey will be used as evidence to improve GP services. The government seems to be making the situation worse.

  7. Dashwood House surgery. Pointless even trying to get an appointment. People just suffer in silence or present at A&E for fairly minor ailments. The NHS then spent countless money trying to educate people only to use A&E for critical issues and to go and see their GP. The whole system is totally broken. It’s high time we realised as a nation we can’t have our cake and eat it, We can’t have Scandinavian class public services in a low tax economy. At some point we have to face up to the fact we can’t afford the NHS any more in its current guise and have an adult conversation about how we fund it moving forward.

  8. People in Thanet earn, on average, less than in other areas of Kent. This makes the people expendable. But hey, it’s what people voted for.

      • I am in my 78th year, and was treated for asthma for three and half years, but after I started to cough up blood, and was sent to a specialist by a locum, my GP concealed her diagnosis from me! I was still being treated by a COPD nurse when I sneaked a look at her computer screen, and discovered I had Emphysema and Pulmonary fibrosis! I asked the COPD nurse for a copy of the email and she asked me why I wanted it? Long story short after I complained my diagnosis was concealed from me, my GP deregistered me!

  9. Please, please email your concerns and experiences to our elected representative, Craig Mackinlay. Only if he gets a lot of complaints will anything be done.
    And, at the next election, don’t vote Tory.

      • Either you’re a troll or incredibly ignorant.
        We’ve got austerity because, on a world-wide stage, banks and financial institutions over reached themselves to breaking point. Some went to the wall: Lehman Brothers, Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae for example. In the UK the government, using our money, bought up some banks because they were “too big to fail”
        Since then we’ve had continuous Tory governments under a variety of prime ministers.
        Since then the National Debt has gone up. So has the wealth of the very rich.
        It is the poor who have suffered, as a whole host of services, including but not limited to the NHS, has been cut back or withdrawn altogether.
        It was, I think, Owen Jones who likened the Establishment to a mechanism for moving public money into private pockets; a mechanism at which the Tories are most adept.

        • “In October 2008 Lehmans bank in the USA, collapsed toppling the international banking system. It cost the UK £one trillion to shore up the British banks, which we paid back with years of Public Service cuts”. Not my words but a BBC2 documentary on the 2nd October 2018! So it was nothing to do with the Labour Party, which is just Tory propaganda, but all to do with the Tories pouring OUR money into a corrupt banking system! The EU are trying to introduce further banking rules to make sure it can’t happen again, and of course the Tory mandarins do not want to sign up for that do they! That’s why they orchestrated leaving the EU, its got nothing to do with taking back control!

  10. I don’t think our MPs will be bothered by this appalling situation. Look at their complete inactivity with our stroke unit. And nationally, who said we can no longer afford the NHS? That is rubbish. Branson for example scoops up lucrative NHS contracts, yet he pays no UK taxes because he is registered offshore. We are the 5th richest country in the world. If the government were to deal with offshore accounts and tax avoidance, that would pay for the NHS. But I nearly forgot. People voted for this government.

  11. Calm down, everybody!
    Our problems are solved. No longer paying the EU £350 million a week(not that we ever did) so we can:—–
    1) spend £350 million per week on new GPs and Stroke units in the NHS
    2) spend £350 million per week on a proper Social Care service so we don’t have to sell our houses to fund our care when we are old and frail
    3) spend £350 million per week on HS2 even though we have HS1 here in Kent and I haven’t notice Thanet or Dover booming with economic health from being closer by train to London. (Don’t tell the poor people in the North that HS2 won’t help them. They have enough fantasies already)
    4) spend £350 million per week on new nuclear weapons that will have UK flags on but will only be used by Americans
    5) spend £350 million per week on whatever Boris Johnson can dream up next. Maybe a garden bridge running from the French coast across to Kent then across the Irish sea from Scotland to north-eastern Ireland via a new airport in the Thames estuary.

    Total cost? Just £350 million per week. A bargain. “A great deal,the best deal!” Donald Trump.
    It’s what the people voted for!

  12. On reflection, the title of this piece is a little curious, because we no longer queue to see a GP. We used to. I can remember, in my distant youth, turning up at the surgery waiting room and joining a row of fierce looking hopeful patients. There was a complicated seating protocol which I as an infrequent visitor to the surgery, clearly had failed to master: the patient nearest the surgery doir was “next”, then we’d all shuffle up a bit.
    Then the NHS introduced the booking system. You made an appointment. No need to queue.
    The tricky bit is that now it is difficult to get an appointment in a timely way.
    Because there are too few doctors, and far too many people turning up at the surgery with very little wrong with them.
    Self medicate.
    Use your excellent local pharmacist.
    Use the NHS helpline.
    Then, if you must, visit your GP

  13. The reason for the difficulty in getting a GP appointment is simple – the huge lack of GPs in this area (as in many other parts of the country too). Thanet needs an additional 19 GPs (I think that is the current figure, apologies if it is wrong). So of course it is difficult to get an appointment.

    How many of you who have written complaining are actually a member of your surgery’s Patient Participation Group? (PPG). I have been for the past 4 years – there is a 2 hour meeting about every 6 weeks and the surgery explains the problems they have, what they are trying to do to resolve them and need the feed-back from patients as well.

    My surgery is constantly introducing new ways of trying to improve the service they offer to patients and they now have several nurse-practioners who can see patients in addition to doctors and have recently introduced a walk-in system to see if that will improve the service they offer.

    But as Andrew has written – we also have to admit that patients are a problem too as too many don’t attend appointments, even when made on the same day; visit a doctor when they could see a pharmacist; and unfortunately some elderly simply go for a chance to chat with someone!

    I am not saying there are not many problems within the NHS, of course there are, but before complaining, you also need to remember – there are always two sides to every argument. My surgery really appreciates the feedback they get from PPG members and many suggestions are then acted upon. We all have different life experiences and often someone from outside the NHS has experience of handling matters from a different working environment, but that experience can also be applied to our GP surgeries to assist them in improving their working methods.

    So if you are critical of the NHS and your surgery, think about joining the PPG and doing something to help the problem – or at least understand the situation better. As a TDC councillor Pauline and as you are now writing on the subject and criticising it, you should definitely join your surgery’s PPG and perhaps you will then be more objective and even write an article helping others to understand the problems are GP surgeries are facing. Sadly in today’s society, so many are very quick to criticise and complain but never to anything constructive to assist or resolve a problem.

    • Thank you Jan for some excellent comments, I am of course on my PPG and have been for longer than I have been a councillor – I’m sorry that you would presume that I’m not. As stated in the article, there is no way that I am criticising our hard working NHS staff. We need to challenge the system in as many ways as possible, including holding our MP and CCG to account.

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