Packed, angry meeting hears details of Chiswick GP surgeries merger

Image above: Grove Park Surgery

Worried patients vent their concerns over the changes

Anger and frustration were expressed by patients at a public meeting on Wednesday (21 February) at which more than 200 people crowded into the Methodist Church on Sutton Court Road to hear details of the merger between three Chiswick GP surgeries.

Grove Park Surgery, Wellesley Rd practice and the Chiswick Family Doctors Practice are going through the process of merging. They held a public meeting in October to explain what would happen. The process started in December and will be completed in April.

They are creating a new medical practice called Chiswick Medical Practice, while each continuing to operate from their existing locations with the same doctors on site. Collectively the three practices look after nearly half the population of Chiswick.

READ ALSO: Doctors promoting merger of three Chiswick GP surgeries say it will benefit patients

What was remarkable about the meeting was the preponderance of older people, some of whom could barely walk, who were sufficiently concerned to go out on a wet, windy night, demonstrating the level of anxiety amongst older people about the state of the NHS.

The meeting in October was well attended, but not packed, as this one was. Word had filtered through to a lot more people that there were substantial changes happening which would affect how they access their GP. Some wanted to know the basics of how to book an appointment with their GP under the new system. Others had specific complaints about the service they were getting.

Image above: Wellesley Rd surgery

What the changes mean to patients

The most evident change in the way patients are affected is that if someone wants to see a doctor for a new condition or an existing condition which has got worse, they now have to fill in an online form. By sending the surgery details of their symptoms, and maybe a photograph of a rash, using a software system called Klinik doctors can quickly assess whether they need to talk to a patient or whether their case would be better handled by someone else, such as a nurse or a pharmacist or a physiotherapist.

For people of working age it makes life easier. They can do it on their phone on their way to work, without being late to the office, or they can do it at any point in the day, then speak to a doctor if it is needed. No longer do patients have to put up with the inconvenience of ringing at a set time in the morning, hanging on the phone for maybe half an hour until their call is answered and waiting for a doctor to call them back. There is less time wasted for both patients and doctors.

For older people who are less conversant with the internet it can represent a barrier. ‘Digital exclusion’ is a real problem. The number of households who do not have access to the internet at home currently stands at 6%, according to a 2022 Ofcom report. According to Age UK, 34% people aged 75 and over and 10% people aged 65 to 74 do not use the internet.

The Ofcom report also found:

‘Among those with access to the internet, 8% say outright that they are not confident in using it. This proportion rises to 18% when respondents were asked specifically about their confidence in managing who has access to their personal data online.’

The same age group are less likely to have smart phones. While most of the population now has a smart phone, over the age of 65 only 80% do.

This age group represent a minority of the three surgeries’ patients, but this was the demographic represented in the room, for whom the changes are likely to cause the most problems.

Amanda Meehan

“We don’t deserve to be shouted at”

The meeting, chaired by the new practice manager of Chiswick Medical Practice, Amanda Meehan, started badly when she immediately said with so many people there she would not be able to take questions. The newly appointed chair of the Patients Participation Group, Henry Gewanter, then started taking questions but sidestepped the first question put to him.

They had been talking about merging the practices and merging the three Patient Participation Groups into one.

The first question was: “You’re going on about committees and sub-committees, but what happens when you pick up the phone to make an appointment? Take it from there.”

What happens is that if you have a new condition or an existing condition which is getting worse, you are asked to fill out the online form, so the Klinik system (checked by doctors) can triage your problem, making a preliminary assessment from the information you have given them. If you can’t or don’t want to do that yourself online, the receptionist should then offer to take you through the form, either over the phone or in person, if you would prefer to come into the surgery to fill it out.

The meeting then erupted into angry questions and comments. One man said he had on two occasions called in the morning:

“The receptionist was rude and forced me to do it on the phone. You should be giving people training.”

Henry Gewanter

Henry Gewanter said:

“I know for many years there have been problems with receptionists being rude. There is NHS training available.”

Another man said he had been in info tech since the 1970s and the system was “a nightmare”, a comment which received a round of applause.

One receptionist had apparently said if the patient didn’t want to fill out the form they were welcome to go elsewhere, a suggestion Amanda also made to the meeting, for which she immediately apologised.

“We don’t deserve to be shouted at” she said.

“Then get your information right” came the response.

Things got a little better when some way into the meeting they discovered there were microphones available.

Dr Sethurajan told The Chiswick Calendar the new Klinik ‘hub’ was working well for them:

“We saw 340 patients today through the hub. It gives us a way of triaging.”

He told us so far around 70% patients had accessed the online system by themselves, whereas 20 – 30% had filled out their form with the help of a receptionist. There were some teething problems, he admitted:

“I recognise the complaint of rudeness. People are calling up and finding the system’s changed. Some people don’t like filling in forms and are worried about confidentiality.

Amanda Meehan told the meeting all GP practices are moving towards Modern General Practice, using similar methods. The Chiswick Medical Practice was ahead of the game and sooner or later they would all be using this system or something similar.

Image above: Computer Generated Image of the new health centre being built at Fisher’s Lane, where Chiswick Family Doctors Practice will be based

Volunteers needed for the new Patients Participation Group

The newly merged doctors surgeries have set up a new Patients Patricipation Group, with Henry Gewanter as its chair (a decision which in itself has not gone down well with some at the meeting, who remembered his controversial chairmanship of the Chiswick Horticultural and Allotment Society).

Every GP surgery should have a Patients Participation Group. “Every practice in the country has it written into their contract that they should have a patients’ group”, said Amanda. Grove Park Surgery, Wellesley Rd practice and the Chiswick Family Doctors Practice have all had active groups in the past which became less active during the pandemic.

Dr Shantha Sethurajan, who was at the meeting representing Grove Park Surgery, spoke about the registered charity which had operated at their surgery, organising lifts to hospital for people who needed them and creating a therapeutic garden for people to enjoy the opportunity of doing a bit of gardening. They have also organised online video talks about a range of medical conditions.

They hope to form a positive alliance of patients willing to work with them to provide a better service to patients.

If you are interested in joining the Patients Patricipation Group, contact the Chiswick Medical Practice by email at: nhsnwl.cmpmanagers@nhs.net.

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