You may think I’ve been quiet for a few days. I haven’t. I thought I was over the worst of the cold I had last week, but I was wrong. They lurgy returned lurgissimo and I was coughing like a chain-smoking consumptive over the weekend, particularly at night disturbing sleep for both me and Mrs P.
I went to work on Monday still croaking and spluttering and feeling decidedly light-headed for a meeting I really didn’t want to miss. That out of the way, I decided to try one of the much trumpeted Walk-in Centres handily nearby. It is run by Atos Origin on behalf of the NHS and it looked impressive on my non-patient visits.
I rolled up at reception just before lunch and as to see a GP to be told that I could, but that there was a 50 minute waiting time, not the 15 minute maximum their leaflet claimed. But hey, there are lots of bugs about and they could be busy so I asked for an appointment time and I would come back.
“We can do that,” said the receptionist. “You have to wait here once you’re booked in.” I said I’d rather not and she gave me a card with the centres number on it with the suggestion that I should call later to see what waiting times were like.
Back in the office, I dug out the leaflet about the centre and it said quite clearly that you can book an appointment other than during the rush-hour period of 7.30am to 8.30am. So I tried. After going through the automated answering service that advised me to phone 999 if I was desperately ill or NHS Direct if only feeling a tad peaky, I finally got through to the receptionist:
“But you don’t have to make an appointment, you just turn up,” she said.
“How long would I have to wait?” I asked.
“I really couldn’t say. We’ve no idea who might come through the door before you get here.”
“So why can’t I book an appointment like it says in your leaflet?”
“Because that just isn’t possible I’m afraid.”
I rang my GP’s surgery, more in hope than expectation, and sure enough there were no appointments available that afternoon.
I explained that I thought I might have a chest infection and that the practice nurse might do. “Can you get here for 2.30?” asked the receptionist. “Surgery starts at 2.45 and the doctor could fit you in before then.”
So there I was at 2.25, had seen the GP who ran his stethoscope down my back, had an opportunistic blood pressure reading, and out again just after 2.30 with a prescription for a week’s course of amoxicillin in my hand.
I have no ideological problem with the private sector providing NHS services, indeed I suspect that they could provide a spur towards better ‘customer care’, but in this instance I have to congratulate good, old-fashioned public sector ‘ineffciency’.