A DOCTORS surgery has sought to defend itself over accusations of providing a 'deeply flawed' service that keeps its patients 'at arm's length.

Skipton's Fisher Medical Centre, part of the Modality Partnership, which also includes Silsden Surgery and Steeton Health Centre, has been accused of letting patients down, especially possibly older, more vulnerable people unable to use the online booking system brought in last year.

One patient who contacted the Craven Herald said while there is clearly a national crisis in GP services with a shortage of doctors, he believed it was particularly evident at the Skipton surgery.

In response, Fisher Medical says it had no choice but to bring in its online system because of the amount of telephone calls it was getting, and has pointed to the many positive comments from satisfied patients.

However, criticism also comes from the grandson of the original founder of the practice, who wants the family name removed from the health centre, and a representative of the practice is due to attend a future meeting of the area committee of North Yorkshire Council to respond to concerns raised by patients to Craven councillors.

The patient, who has asked not to be named, said on a recent visit to the centre off Coach Street, he witnessed three older women, all of who had gone to the surgery after failing to make an appointment online, were still unsuccessful and made their feelings known in robust language.

"Something is going badly wrong. I think the GP service in general is in trouble however I think Modality are even worse. How many people out there in desperate need are just suffering in silence or being forced to resort to accident and emergency just to get seen. Even when you’ve submitted a request you’ve no confirmation that they’ve received it and when they’ll deal with it.

"It's clear that nationally there is a crisis in GP services with a shortage of GP’s therefore putting stress on getting time in front of a GP so the service looks like it’s been rationed by putting a stop to the old system whereby you could call and book a doctor’s appointment.

"You can understand a form of triage being introduced to prioritize appointments a face-to-face time with a GP. I think Covid presented the GP services with the opportunity to keep their patients legitimate at arm’s length."

He added: "I think in principle a good well signposted triage system is probably the best thing we could expect, but the Modality model appears deeply flawed. Firstly, the online form is long winded and clunky and has issues. If you have no internet access or mobile or a not confident with this technology which many elderly vulnerable don’t or aren’t then you have to call and wait in a queue to then try and run through the form which can take ages.

"I think they allow themselves 14 days to deal with non-urgent and then it’s just a call and if you miss the call you have to start again. I’ve had experience of two enquires going unanswered and had to resort to complaining direct online and even that process is difficult to access and once submitted you’ve no idea that they’ve got."

Dr Brian Fisher, the grandson of the founder of the Skipton practice, whose father was also a doctor, remains a patient at Fisher Medical. He initially wrote to the practice two years ago asking for his name to be removed and has recently written again.

Dr Fisher, who retired in the 1990s, said: "I appreciate that GPs are under a lot of pressure, but there are people out there in their late 80s who are not computer literate, and have not got computers."

A spokesperson for Fisher Medical Centre said: "Healthcare nationally is seeing a dramatic increase in demand, especially within General Practice. In January 2024, we have seen a 33 per cent increase in the number of patient requests received compared to the previous six-month average. We know that this significant pressure on GP practices can cause frustration for patients and a delay in accessing care, but we are working hard to find ways to improve access, together with efficiently and safely managing the increased demand. This includes introducing new ways of working, utilising both telephone and digital triage to make sure patients are offered the right care, with the right clinician and within an appropriate timescale for their medical need.

"In April 2023, in response to patient feedback, we launched our new Patient Access System to maximise our ability to deal with the very high volume of queries we receive each day. This year, during the week beginning February 5, Fisher Medical Centre received just under 1,000 patient requests, which equates to approximately one in 13 patients contacting the practice, the team answered over 1,100 calls and offered 2,574 appointments. To help us manage this high demand, we now ask that those patients who are able to submit their request using the online form available on our practice website. However, patients who do not have access to online services are still able to contact the practice over the telephone or visit in person where the team will complete the online form on their behalf.

"We understand that this is a big change for everyone and want to say a big thank you to all those patients who have taken the time to fill out the online form when contacting the surgery either for yourself, for family, friends or neighbours. It really is appreciated.

"Providing the ability to contact us online and over the phone has helped us stop the '8 am, first come first served, rush' and prevent the team repeatedly telling patients that there are no appointments left and to call back the following day. Prioritising the patients who need same day care, signposting patients to other / more appropriate services and the ability to plan and allocate routine care for patients within an appropriate timescale has transformed the capacity of care that we are able to offer.

"NHS England is asking GP Practices to adopt this new way of working as part of their new Modern General Practice model. Locally we are one of the first to implement these new initiatives and we hope that many of our patients will be encouraged to learn that we are leading the way to improve services and access for our patient community.

"Prior to the new system, it was not uncommon for Fisher patients not to be able to join the phone queue due to it being full or having to face long call wait times. The high number of patients that have switched to contacting us online via our website has helped us free up our phone lines for our most vulnerable patients. The call wait time for patients has been reduced by over 55 per cent when compared to same time last year. We know we can do better and want to continue to reduce the call wait time for patients. To achieve this, we continue to recruit and train new reception staff and clinicians in order to provide the highest quality of care and the maximum appointment capacity possible.

"Big changes are never easy. Especially during high stress situations such as illness, so we can’t say thank you enough to our patients who are navigating this change. Giving us your symptoms, your worries and fears online is a big ask. Please be assured that all patient requests are reviewed and assessed by human-beings, your GPs, the same GPs as before just operating in a new safer and more efficient way.

"We continue to welcome and listen to patient feedback and respond by making the necessary changes needed to enhance and improve the services we offer. Since April 2023, we have been delighted by the high level of positive and constructive feedback that we have received from our patients – please see an example below. Patients are able to provide feedback via our website or can take a more active role by joining our Patient Participation Group."

Note- this statement is a fuller version of the one that appears in the print version of the Craven Herald.