A third of Stevenage residents struggle to get hold of their doctors surgery by phone, according to an NHS survey.

The Comet is publishing the public's scores for eight GP surgeries.

The survey, conducted on behalf of NHS England, sees a questionnaire sent to two million people each year.

This year, approximately 850,000 responded.

In the East and North Hertfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area, which covers Stevenage, just under 6,750 people took part.

Overall satisfaction

Nationally, an average of 83 per cent of people said their overall experience of their GP surgery was good.

In the East and North Herts CCG region, it was 85 per cent.

Six out of eight GP surgeries serving Stevenage residents scored in line with or above the national average.

At the top of the table was Shephall Health Centre, with 93 per cent.

The partners said they were “delighted”, attributing the outcome to “the resilience of the wonderful and hard-working practice team”.

“We are all aware that the most crucial part of the operation is, in fact, the patients,” they continued.

“We would particularly like to thank the patients who have had to adapt to more flexible appointment times and innovative appointment types, such as online, telephone and video consultations.”

King George

At the King George surgery, in High Street, one in four patients said their overall experience was not good.

A spokesperson called the results “a snapshot in time during the most challenging year the NHS has ever faced”.

They said the survey was carried out in January, at “the peak of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out", in which the King George Surgery was “heavily involved”.

“Things were incredibly busy as we worked hard to contact and book patients for their vaccines, answer the large volume of enquiries about the vaccine programme and continue to deliver our usual service,” they continued.

Senior partner Dr Teresa Roberts said: “This has been a really challenging year for patients and for the health service overall but we are pleased that three quarters of those surveyed at King George Surgery reported that our overall service was good.”

She said King George and its sister practice Manor House, in Emperors Gate, had achieved “excellent scores around appointments... with most meeting the CCG average and some excelling it.”

Telephone access

Across England, 68 per cent of people said they found it easy to get through to their surgery by telephone.

In the East and North Herts CCG area, it was 65 per cent.

Six out of eight Stevenage surgeries were above the national average – but two were significantly below it.

At the Manor House Surgery, only 51 per cent of people said it was easy to get through by telephone. Its sister surgery, King George, scored 46 per cent.

"We are working hard to improve people’s experience of contacting us by reconfiguring our phone lines, changing our appointment system so that patients don’t need to call us at 8am when phone lines are congested, and having more staff answering calls during busy periods,” said Dr Roberts.

“We will study all the survey feedback closely to see how we can continue to improve services going forward.”

One problem highlighted by the survey was that difficulty making contact with a surgery can deter people from seeking medical help.

Nationally, 11 per cent of people said they had avoided making a GP appointment because they found it too difficult.

In Stevenage, two surgeries were higher than the national average.

One – the Knebworth and Marymead Practice – was only slightly above, with 12 per cent.

The highest was one again King George, where almost one in five surveyed patients – 18 per cent – said they had avoided making appointments because they found it too difficult.

A spokesperson for the King George and Manor House surgeries said only 1.15 per cent of their 22,000 patients had responded to the survey.

The service's patient liaison group said staff had worked hard during both the pandemic and the recent merger of the two surgeries.

"Staff were having to support each other during this time by not only dealing with the roll-out of the vaccine to patients but also normal patient day to day issues," it said.

Stevenage GP Prag Moodley, chairman of the CCG, said he was "pleased" overall satisfaction was above the national average, despite a "challenging year".

"The results do outline an issue with people avoiding contacting general practice, so we would like to remind people that if you need the help of a GP, practice nurse or other health professional... they are there for you," he added.