The blood testing system at an NHS Trust has “collapsed”, with patients waiting hours on the phone to book appointments – and many not able to get through at all.
Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust recently centralised its blood testing booking system by getting patients to book over the phone.
Rosemary Mann, from Forest Hill, said she has been trying to book an appointment all week, but that the telephone queues were too long and she often gets disconnected.
She said: “Blood tests are a key indicator of health problems ranging from infections to pregnancy tests to cancer.
“Yet all of a sudden the residents of Lewisham and Greenwich are being inexplicably denied this basic right due to a centralised service that doesn’t open at 8am when it should – but 8.40am – and when you get access to the automated system you find you are number 90-something in the queue.
“My doctor said they wanted to see my blood results urgently. I’m desperate about how things will go.
“I got to number 77 (in the queue) yesterday after 45 minutes, from number 158, and then the call ended.
“I got to 55 today from 90-something in about 20 minutes then was bumped off at around 9am. Then back to 150 something.
“There is no chance of getting a blood appointment in the area unless you are prepared to stay on for 90 minutes. For people on landlines or pay-as-you-go this will be totally impossible.”
Rosemary added: “This centralisation of blood appointments is recent. Prior to this it was easy. There was never a queue at my practice of choice. It was easy.
“Presumably this a measure to reduce costs, but it is achieving that by totally eliminating the service.
“I’m sympathetic to the challenges facing the NHS, but this is so badly managed its effect is to destroy any semblance of a service whatsoever. Why has this been done and why is it so dreadful?”
When the South London Press called the number we were placed 141st in the queue.
Simon Krish, another patient who lives in Sydenham, said: “For me it’s so frustrating. You can’t even speak with someone, let alone book an appointment. The system has collapsed.
“I timed myself and worked out it would have taken me two hours to get through. If you are on pay-as-you-go your money would be gone.
“When you get to the front you don’t even know if you’ll get an appointment. It doesn’t open at 8am when it says it will.
“I must have rang the number about 40 times by five past eight. It’s been happening for about three weeks.”
Synlab, a private company, has been awarded the pathology services contract in a 15-year deal worth £2.25billion with the South East London Clinical Commissioning group – although the Trust says the two matters are unrelated.
Tony Sullivan, of the South East London Keep Our NHS Public group, and a former clinical director of care for children at Lewisham Hospital, said he was worried about the pathology services.
He said: “My standing position is that the trust has provided good pathology services.
“I hope the issue is resolved soon. I am really worried the South East London Clinical Commissioning Group will further threaten the pathology services at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust.
“The services being awarded to Synlab will undermine pathology services.”
A spokeswoman for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust said: “We are very sorry about the problems with our new blood test phone line.
“We have had to change the service from a walk-in to a booked service due to Covid-19, and we are experiencing exceptionally high call volumes.
“We are aware that people have had to hold on for unacceptably long periods of time, or have been cut off unexpectedly, for which we apologise.
“To address these issues, we have doubled the number of call handlers and put in place a technical fix to prevent people from being cut off.
“People may have to hold on for a while but, once their call is answered, the booking process is extremely quick.
“Our busiest times are between 8am and 9.30am, so please avoid these times if possible.
“Once again, we apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
A spokeswoman for SYNLAB said: “Based on our successful track record, SYNLAB is the chosen partner to provide pathology services for Guy’s and St Thomas’, and King’s College Hospitals NHS Foundation Trusts as well as a number of other NHS providers in the area. However, we are not responsible for services provided by the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust service, which is run by another provider.
“Over the last decade, SYNLAB has invested millions into NHS pathology services, providing world-class laboratories and equipment fit for the future. We have also proven through our NHS partnerships that we can improve the quality of services, such as faster turnaround times meaning earlier access to diagnosis and treatment for patients, and greater efficiency for our clinical service users so they can spend more time with the patient and less time doing administration. At the same time, we are proud to say that we have enabled the NHS to save money on pathology testing services, making the NHS pound stretch much further.”
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