Councillor’s call for ‘urgent investigation’ over Thanet residents’ struggles to book GP appointments

Cllr Pauline Farrance

A Thanet councillor is calling for an “urgent investigation” into the problems residents face in getting GP appointments

Councillor Pauline Farrance has voiced concerns that too many patients in Thanet are facing delays in getting to see doctors, with potentially disastrous consequences.

She said: “Thanet is an area of high deprivation, the kind of area where people are likely to be in greatest need of primary care. Thanet has the second highest child poverty rates in the south of England and the highest in Kent. If anyone needs quick and easy access to their doctors, Thanet people do, and my fear is that many are not getting it.”

‘Range of problems’

Talking to her constituents, Pauline has uncovered a range of problems. She has been told that just to get an appointment, many patients are waiting for up to an hour on the phone from 8am. If they phone about half an hour later, many are still put on hold for nearly an hour, only to find out that all the appointments have gone.

Cllr Farrance said: “This is almost impossible for many people –  the financial cost; people with hearing or mental health difficulties; people trying to look after their children. Generally patients are being asked to put their life on hold for an hour — and many find it hard to do this. And when you do get an appointment it can be any time in that day.”

Many residents are offered telephone consultations but, while these suit some patients, others struggle with them.

Cllr Farrance said:  “Many people find it difficult enough to explain their symptoms anyway, let alone to a stranger over the phone. And people with hearing difficulties or mental health issues may be severely disadvantaged or just put off doing the consultation because it’s on phone. This is especially the case if English is not your first language.”

She says the alternative of consulting an online system can present even more problems, adding: “Many Thanet surgeries are using a system called Econsult,  which takes ages and asks many irrelevant questions.  Patient representatives have declared that is it not fit for purpose.  Other alternatives are available, for example, online email communication with my elderly aunt’s GP in South London has been very effective.”

One of those patients facing difficulties is Richard Bottone (pictured above), from Margate, who says he is struggling to get an appointment and is running out of medication.

The 29-year-old has been a patient at The Limes all his life and says for the last three-and-a-half years he has suffered ill-health which is becoming more extreme and leaving him virtually housebound.

Richard says he suffers constant headaches, extreme fatigue, muscle aches, cold and flu, anxiety, depression, brain fog and other symptoms. He receives medication including Sertraline for anxiety and depression, Pregabalin for nerve support, Zopiclone- for  sleep and two prescription drugs for pain.

He said: “Over the last three-and-a-half years I’ve had lots of appointments, rightly so as my conditions became extreme, and I’ve had to wrestle with doctors to get medication and help during that time. If you don’t call by 8:30am-9am the chances are you won’t even get an appointment.

“I have been seen by neurologist Dr Davies of the London Charing Cross Hospital and my suspected condition is Fibromyalgia. These symptoms increase and decrease but never leave, so I do all I can to manage them but am housebound 75% of the time due to the severity of the condition.

“The medications won’t be allowed on the simple repeat prescriptions due to needing you to be monitored and  two are controlled substances, so by the GP request I have to speak to them before they are administered. But this is no easy task as the GP doesn’t seem to want to prescribe them.

“I have no other choice but to request them as I’m very very unwell and uncomfortable.

“This week I waited 35 minutes on hold but was then told I wasn’t deemed important enough for an appointment and that the practise manager would call me back.

“When he did he reiterated what the receptionist said, that I have to put it in writing and put it in the GPs’ postbox. But the cross over between my old prescriptions running out and the new ones being processed will leave me a period of time without medicine and that can be dangerous due to the time period I’ve been taking them”

Richard says he has barely got the energy to ring or drop off a request letter and has now complained via the NHS complaint line, although he says they too were unable to get through to speak to his GP.

He added: “The fact I have such a low quality of heath is bad enough let alone wrestling for medication to help and now wrestling for the chance to speak to a doctor.”

GP shortage on the isle

Cllr Farrance believes the root of the problem lies in a chronic shortage of GPs in Thanet.

She said: “The number of patients per GP is generally worse than the rest of the country, but in some parts of Thanet it is absolutely shameful. The national average is 1750 patients per GP but, as an example, at the Limes surgery in Margate, it’s more than 5,000 patients per GP.

“I’ve been told that GPs just don’t want to work in some parts of Thanet. So why not have an incentive scheme?   In education, we offer financial incentives for teachers to work in certain areas and subjects. Why doesn’t NHS England do that here? We need to have ready access to our GPs or the health of our community can only get worse.”

The Limes say they are unable to comment on individual cases but added:” Patients are able to see how to make appointments, by phone or through the econsult service, on our website.

“Currently these are the only ways during this Covid crisis. This is to protect all patients and staff and to help reduce the spread.

“Procedures are in place to support all our patients with their medication and appointments

Making requests for medication can be completed through the online access, (not the econsult), through a patient’s pharmacy, or in writing to the surgery. We are unable to take prescription requests over the phone. To set up the online access please contact the surgery.”

Cllr Farrance is urging those who are experiencing problems to get in touch with her by emailing


  1. You need to put this down to clinical commissioners who think they know about medicine It would help if we had the super surgery as planned at Palm bay.That could be open 24 hours a day with diagnostics in house. This would help with early diagnosis instead of using hospital facilities only if urgent. Clinical commissioners need abolishing nobody asked to have one large one for the whole of Kent.

    • 24 hours a day…but you still need doctors to see you. With limited numbers they are simply not available. The idea of the super surgery was not to provide GP Surgeries 24/7 but to provide a minor injuries service as far as i was aware.

    • This has been going on for months. I don’t even bother with the doctors anymore as they’d rather send you to the a and e depth rather than have a one to one appt. We all have to work through covid, apart from some safety measures put in place nothing much has changed. I cant pick who I serve at work so why should their job be ant different to mine?

  2. The Montefiore medical center is excellent. Husband phoned Wednesday a few weeks ago and was offered a telephone appointment two days later on the Friday.
    I phoned for a smear test last Monday, offered appointment a week later, that is this Monday.
    Much easier now to get appointments than it was.
    Safety at the surgery on Monday was brilliant.
    Repeat prescriptions requests handled very efficiently.
    Sorry to hear some people are having problems but this surgery is first class.
    Flu jabs brilliant, both had ours 20th September.

  3. With the addition of 27,000 + new dwellings in Thanet by 2031 = a potential 54,000 + additional residents/patients.
    Who created this problem, Cllr’s and a former Cllr Leader who went to farmers asking for potential building land and got it.

    The excuses will be the Government told us to build or because pro Manston Airport brigades wanted employment instead of houses. When you have a dysfunctional council and managers, what do you expect more chaos and over worked doctors who’s working hours and days have been increased.

    Perhaps the Cllr should go into a Dr surgery and see the pressures they are under made even worse by Covid-19 and the restrictions on the numbers of patients sensibly allowed into a practice at any one time.

    No I am not a Dr just a person with half a brain.

    • I’m sorry to read that you only have half a brain.
      Were you born like this, or is it a result of poor surgery by the NHS?

  4. I fully agree with you Pauline well done to highlight this.. Broadstairs Resident you sound like a Doctor blowing your own trumpet. it might be good where go but it’s not for most others in east Kent and that is what residents are complaining about. I went to a private hospital to see a doctor at 5pm.
    I did not know the name of who the doctor would be. I was amazed to find on arrival the doctor was from my GP surgery. When I told him I did not expect to see him he told me he was on his day off from the surgery.

    • How rude, Ann. I am a patient saying what happens at my surgery. How would I know what happens at other surgeries?
      I’m entitled to post on this site just as other people do and I did acknowledge that others have problems.
      Just because someone expresses a view which differs from yours there is no need to be rude to them.

  5. Broadstairs resident, calm down dear. Yes I know what you meant I have heard good reports about your Surgery in the pass as well as some bad. I do come across as rude but no offence intended I just say it like it is. I wish you good health then you won’t need a doctor.

    • Thank you for your sort of apology Ann, although rather patronising.
      There was no need for calm down dear.
      I am on the Patient Discussion Group at my surgery and have often criticised how things are run and offered suggestions.
      If a practice works well it should get recognition when an article implies all surgeries are poor.

  6. An alternative to your GP’s surgery is your local pharmacist.
    You can consult, in confidence, and be offered advice, treatment (with medications often cheaper than prescription) or referral to GP or A&E if necessary.

  7. I have had very good care and treatment at Dashwood house surgery In Ramsgate. I know things are very difficult for many patients and doctors alike but that is no comfort to those who need appointments or test / referrals to have their concerns attended to. NHS 111 should be expanded so patients can talk to doctors.

  8. I was offered a telephone conversation when I phone on Monday and was told I would get a call next day as all doctors busy It’s now Wednesday evening and I still am waiting I suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and am awaiting a kidney removal. I phoned regarding a rash I have but nobody seems to care now when you’re older. I haven’t seen a doctor since I signed in with limes almost 3 years ago I have to rely on rheumatologist and kidney doctors.

  9. I have had exactly the same problems at The Limes, no appointment, receptionist not willing to listen to the instructions from a hospital consultant. Repeat prescription is useless, online service (patient access), paper prescription, and also writing a letter to the doctor, it wasn’t even received.

    The econsult service is pointless, you try to fill the instructions and tick the appropriate boxes, and then it tells you to call an ambulance (not neccesary).

    Just how do you see a GP now?

    • They are a joke-you can find online minutes from their meetings several years back that the receptionists acting as triage experts doesn’t work, yet it still remains in place.

      Didn’t help that they had a doctor who was unfit to practice without extensive supervision-as the GMC ruled last year at his hearing, who was pretty much running things there, they pretended he took early retirement on their website, rather than facing either being struck off or having to work with constant supervision as per the GMC ruling-so he chose to depart.

  10. With The Limes surgery , I have several serious health conditions and am disabled , phone is constantly engaged at 8am , or you are on hold for 45 minutes then get cut off . Had ecoli in February and was forced to join the line of people waiting outside for an appointment despite my disability and in severe stomach pain . Then had to come back again later in the day for an appointment. Unless you can get through on the phone at 8am you can’t get appointment. I’m surprised there has not been some sort of intervention as practice not fit for purpose

    • Ah yes, the lining up outside where the the queue can stretch back & up to the bus stop or beyond in Trinity Hill & inevitably while standing there you have some imbecile, or multiples of in front &/or behind you who decide they have to light up & force you to breathe in cancer fumes while you are trying to get medical help, then there is the wonderful bit when you eventually get inside packed in like sardines-while people with appointment follow-ups are trying to get past to log in on the machine & one receptionist handling everything, while the others are chatting at the back of the office. If you are lucky you might get to see the snarky/sarcastic, know it all paramedic masquerading as a doctor, who likes to give dietary advice-despite being morbidly obese.

  11. No you got it wrong on cost , one gets a cheap mobile with unlimited free minuits, then you phone Summerhill surgery , this can take days and up to 150 calls , you may then be lucky to get to speak with a rude receptioist who may offer you an appointment or tell you phone back next day, so another couple of weeks. If you do get to see a doctor he may perscribe the wrong medication. Before covid and you were sick you had to go and que up at 7 AM as long que .

    • Same experiences as Paul. Couldn’t believe how broken the system here in Thanet when I moved here 3yrs ago. Seeing elderly people getting a taxi in the snow at 7am to wait outside for surgery to open as phone lines always busy in the GP rest locums. Too be fair are usually good.But continuity of care. Sad situation.

      • Summerhill are not allowed to employ another full time doc, hence the locums. They have been under investgation since the other doc (wont name her) had her own practise in Deal so was claiming a lot of money . She did a runner so to speak by writing her own sick notes. The investigation has been ongoing for about 3 years. If you can get past the rude receptionists the main doc is very good.

  12. The NHS used to invest in proper well thought out recruitment campaigns, using specialist recruitment agencies helping to target hard to recruit areas or shortage professions. Globally this worked for over a decade and all that good work appears forgotten. Agencies just get a bashing over and over and over again like they’re the enemy when the reality is, good quality recruitment skills to search globally and nationally for these important jobs is a worthwhile skill and it requires funds and some imagination and belief. Agencies who understand global supply chain for qualified professionals and who can work and partner the NHS. These days seem gone.

    Putting an ad for a GP on an NHS website won’t resolve the recruitment crisis. It needs proper thought, and investment.

    • The bigger problem is the endless writing prescriptions/forcing medications on people(if your doctor has a pharma rep company mug etc then they are in thrall to the pharma companies) rather than actually helping them-like the antibiotics prescription catastrophe the NHS has created through decades of over-prescribing despite the warning, (which is time consuming, but could be done with lifestyle doctors/coaches in the practices)many of whom have zero desire to help themselves-the obese, smokers, heavy drinkers etc. The NHS simply cannot cope with demand, because we have become an obese nation from what when I was young was seen as something fairly rare & shameful to being normal now.

      You only have to watch the GP’s Behind Closed Doors show to see the endless time wasters going in complaining about their cough/chests/breathing yet refuse help to give up smoking when offered, those saying they drink 20 pints a day but don’t have a drinking problem & their problems must be something else-sure & the morbidly obese moaning about their heart problems & mobility-if these people would actually help themselves in conjunction with the NHS then the NHS wouldn’t have A&E’s full-especially at the weekends & doctors would actually have more time to help people with more complex issues than their five minutes-ten if you are lucky & one problem only routine.

      • Steve, you are quite right, watching GPs behind closed doors, so many time wasters.

        “I’ve got this pain in my little finger”
        How long have you had it?
        “Since I woke up this morning, I think I must have slept on it”

        Just comical.

  13. Under investment by the government for NHS but CCG’s are useless too. A lot of money is wasted on managers who don’t care about client health but spend more time shuffling services around and in the process wasting even greater amounts of funding.
    The lack of doctors working in East Kent and Thanet has been a big problem for many years now and nothing has changed recently. It is almost impossible to get an appointment at the best of times but now with a pandemic that looks like is running long term it is impossible. The patient online access is not allowing patients to send messages about medication or request it either so not much help either.
    I feel for Richard Bottone in this news story as I have similar health issues and also have a great deal of trouble getting through to the surgery and requesting a telephone consultation as they will not allow us to have a future appointment, just continuously told to ring next morning again hoping to get lucky. This should not be the case as it is scandalous in the UK 21st century.

  14. I am with Broadstairs medical centre it is very good but a telephone consultation is not the same as seeing the doctor ,. A doctor cannot tell over the phone how much pain or distress a patient may be in.

  15. Haviing been a patient at the limes 15 years ago and my partner still being one, no susprise to hear its still a basket case. Best time to go there is on a nice summers afternoon, when 75% of the junkies , alcoholics and general ne’er do wels will decide that a day on the seafront is better than attending the appointment they booked. Standard practice in there is for the afore mentioned to create a ruckus until they get what they want.
    I for the last 14 years have been with the westgate bay ave surgery, couldn’t be more different. Fast efficient and patients that can behave. Never had to wait more than 5 mins for phone to be answered, a system of next day telephone consultation with your doctor and / or a physical consultation if needed.
    The Limes is well over subscribed since it took on another practices list, not surprised yhey can’t get enough gp’s because who’d really want to spend their working lives dealing with the local residents.( obviously not all,but a hugely disproportionate number of the dregs of society)

  16. When is the super duper Bethesda expansion happening? Should at least improve things substantially-even if you have to put with the God-botherer nonsense from Dr Happy Clapper Scott.

  17. Congratulations to Cllr Farrance in making your situation so much worse. I am a doctor from Scotland and have read about this article on a GP forum. You have a GP recruitment crisis and no GP in their right mind would be looking to move to your area with this type of article. The feeling is similar from colleagues. There is an old saying in GP land- you get the patients you deserve. The worse you treat your GP the fewer GP’s you will have and with 5000 patients per GP I rest my case.

    • But no one will listen to you, the area has some excellent GP’s , unsurprisingly they are in practices serving the areas normal folk. Those in the others deserve medals for putting up with what they do, but as you point out attracting the best GPs is just not going to happen.

  18. I would like to publicly state that my comments in this article are no way intended to be critical of any health worker. I know that they are all doing their best in a very difficult situation. It is the system and the processes in which they have to work that need urgent review and attention. I would like to publicly thank all the concerned residents who have written to my email address. I was overwhelmed with your messages of support, and there were some very sad stories indeed. Also many thanks to those who have commented above. A few misunderstandings – sorry but I don’t have time to reply individually at present as I am responding to all those who emailed me, and collating all the information for a meeting with the Kent and Medway CCG tomorrow. What I will do is promise everyone that I will remain persistent (I’ve been on this case for at least a year now) in trying to achieve a more accessible health service for us all in Thanet. Visit our Save our NHS in Kent fb page for information about our campaigns for all our health services, including our fight for our Stroke Unit!

  19. Thanet has the worst gps I have ever encountered. I’ve lived in London Manchester and Essex. Thanet gps are hopeless and seem to only be interested in “skiving” it’s so sad that people are actually having to go to A&E to see a doctor and Qeqm hospital is not much better(thanet) you see. Yes I’m moving away in New year.

  20. Just read all the comments and feel the need to detail my experience with my GP…. 26.05 phoned my GP at 09.00 due to a growth on my tonsils, was seen 2 hours later!!!, GP called ENT dept at Ashford, visited William Harvey hospital 28.05, tonsils removed 10.06, diagnosed with throat cancer on 29.06 (this is what the growth was) radiotherapy & chemotherapy started on 13.07 and completed after 7 weeks treatment. Nothing but praise for my GP in the way I was treated and the speed I was seen etc…. it does depend how good the surgery is, unfortunately there are GP surgeries that are near on useless, plus patients visiting GP’s for such silly reasons. I have nothing but praise for the way my GP and the NHS have treated me the last few months…..

  21. I notice that we all havi g bad time contacting doctors at this time. I hate to be the bearer of bad news buts what going to happen when another 2000 houses go up around Westwood and surrounding areas food for thought?

    • Doesn’t take long to digest, they’ll be filled largely with those displaced from the london boroughs and surrounds, arrive with their various ills and neurorese , there may be an additional GP or two at one surgery or another if they can find one willing to ply their trade in thanet.

Comments are closed.