“Why can I never get through?” “The telephone lines are always engaged.”I had to wait a while for my call to be answered.

The above comments are sometimes made to us.

As a surgery that prides itself on delivering excellent service to our patients, it is disappointing to hear that patients sometimes can’t get through to the surgery, as quickly as they would like.

We thought it would be useful to explain how the telephone system works, to provide a better explanation of the difficulties that patients occasionally experience on the telephone.

We have nine available incoming lines into the surgery, which handle our five options. We also have four dedicated lines for making external calls, so that we do not ‘block’ incoming calls with outgoing calls.

Difficulties with getting through begin to arise when all of our call handlers are taking other calls. In this situation, our telephone system will place your call in a queue. Your call will be placed in the appropriate options’ queue. For example, if you call the Appointments line and all of our Appointments call handlers are busy, your call will go into the Appointments queue. We politely request that patients do not abuse this system and press a different option in the hope of getting through quicker. In these situations, we will normally ask you to re-dial and advise you of the appropriate option to press. We endeavour to answer every call as quickly as possible and this can mean that your call gets through the queue very quickly, if you are prepared to wait. Our advice to patients, particularly during our busy periods, is that if you call and sadly end up in the queue, to stay in the queue as this is the quickest way for your call to be answered – calls will not be answered any quicker by hanging up and re-dialling and if anything, this method will place you further back in the queue. During our busy periods, it is, unfortunately, unlikely that your call will be answered instantly. Also, whilst most routine calls can be dealt with very quickly, there are occasions where patients need more of our time to resolve complex queries. We endeavour to give each and every patient as much time as it takes to help them, be it a 30 second call or a 5 minute call for example.

If you call and hear an engaged tone, this means that all of our lines are in use. This happens on very rare occasions, however there are some extremely busy periods where this feasibly could happen. Our telephone lines are extremely busy between 8.30am and 9.30am most mornings as this is when our ‘Book-on-the-Day’ Doctor’s appointments are made available – we ensure that all of our telephonists and administration staff prioritise answering the telephone during these periods to reduce how long patients have to wait. Whilst we will happily deal with routine requests at any time, we respectfully request that queries that may wait until later in the day (for example, booking an appointment for a day other than the day you are phoning) are left until that time to allow patients with urgent problems and requests to get through easier in the early mornings.

You may also hear telephones ringing in the Reception area. Whilst we cannot comment on the working practices of the other surgery and departments also based at the Health Centre building, we do not answer external calls on Reception, to protect patient confidentiality and privacy, and to ensure that our Reception staff can dedicate their time to patients that are present in the surgery.

Please rest assured that all of our telephones are answered until the end of the day and we do not leave phones ringing in the hope that the person on the other end will hang up. Our telephone system is set up in a way that it will not transfer to the recorded out of hours message until all of the incoming calls have been cleared from the system. We regularly review our performance on the telephone and are always striving to find ways to improve the telephone service we offer.

We welcome suggestions that may improve our telephone service that can be implemented within the constraints of the telephone system we have at our disposal.

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