A DOCTORS’ surgery where patients were left hanging on the phone for hours while trying to make appointments is changing its controversial telephone system.

Unity Health at Kimberlow Hill has come in for harsh criticism for its “online triage” system, with patients complaining they could not get through for hours and had been forced to take taxis to the site in order to make appointments.

Now the surgery has apologised and is due to speak to councillors when bosses will confirm the troublesome system is being withdrawn while they decide whether it should be scrapped.

In a statement, Unity Health Partner Dr Richard Wilcox said:

“We know that recently we have not lived up to our own high expectations and we are sorry for any inconvenience this has caused.

“Like every other GP practice in the country, we’re experiencing unprecedented levels of demand and are constantly exploring new ways to continue to provide the best care to our patients in the face of this pressure on services.

“Therefore, after much thought and consideration, we will be temporarily withdrawing our online triage system on June 15 while we review how we can make this work better for patients and the practice.”

It will be replaced with a simple phone-based system with extra reception staff hired, Dr Wilcox confirmed, and the practice has worked with a phone provider to make sure the new system was “fully fit for purpose”.

Dr Wilcox added: “We would like to take this opportunity again to apologise to any of our patients who’ve been inconvenienced or struggled through the period of transition with the move to our new building.”

The move had been a huge undertaking, he added, and he asked people to bear with them through the transition.

The phone problems attracted criticism from both York MPs Rachael Maskell and Julian Sturdy, and Osbaldwick councillor Mark Warters called for City of York’s health scrutiny committee to look into the situation.

Practice bosses are due to speak to councillors on Wednesday, and a written update published in advance confirms the plan to halt the phone system.

Practice staff have also said patients can help by ringing later in the day, as they get up to 95 calls per hour in the mornings but hardly any after teatime. The phone lines are open until 8pm Monday to Thursday, until 6pm on Fridays and on Saturday mornings.

They also say that as the new phone system has no queuing function, callers will get an engaged tone if all the lines are busy and will have to try again later.

People can also email the practice on admin.unityhealth@nhs.net with non-urgent inquiries.

Unity Health have also issued "top tips" to help patients get in touch.

  1. Save time and book online
  1. Ring after tea plea
    • Our surgeries are open until 8pm Mon to Thurs and 6pm on Fridays, as well as Saturday mornings, so you can contact us after tea
    • We get more than 90 calls an hour each morning but hardly any after 6pm, so that’s a good time to call us if you can
  1. Busy bees
    • If the phone is engaged, this means all our receptionists are speaking on all our phone lines. You will have to try us when the lines are quieter or contact us online. We don’t have a telephone queue system in place currently.
  1. E mail us
    • For non urgent messages, you can e mail us on admin.unityhealth@nhs.net
    • This is a good way of letting us know you don’t need your appointment any more It’s also a good way of asking for forms and information
  1. Check out our website
    • If you’re not sure about something, have a look on our website for more information www.unityhealth.info