I’ve been a bit slack on the blog front recently  – one of the reasons being that I’ve not been well, and having three children, we’ve passed it around. A severe throat infection that is.

Having had a few weeks of nasty illness in Swindon, I’ve had several encounters with the health service, particularly the out-of-hours service, and it pains me to say – it’s not great.

What’s happening to our NHS in Swindon? 

When my first two girls were born, only two years apart, I never worried if they needed to see a doctor out of hours. We had an excellent service.

You would call, make an appointment, head off to a surgery on an industrial estate, never wait more than half an hour and be sorted. In fact it worked so well, that it was easier to see a doctor than during regular hours.

Now I find it’s all a hideous, frustrating mess.

I keep asking myself why? Why do we seem to have more complication than ever? It’s as if we, the patients, are being kept at arms length unless our illness is between 9 and 5. And even then you feel like an irritant rather than a patient in need of help.

First I was very poorly and asked for a GP to visit me. I knew it was’t an ambulance job, but the last time I felt that ill was about 20 years ago.

I have lived in Swindon since 1997 and have never asked a GP to visit – the doctor was so rude, saying he served 200,000 patients in the area and wasn’t coming out for a sore throat. My husband tried to explain that I had pains across my back, felt sick but he refused. Hubby explained I was too ill to sit for hours in a waiting room, doctor refused. When I grew up in the 1970s, you only had to tell your GP you were ill and he came. No quibble, no question. My, how things have changed.

I struggled on for another night and called again the next morning – Saturday – and I did go up to the out-of-hours centre (but a centre which is now only for certain conditions deemed to be serious but not too serious, there’s a list on door). Ironically the lovely nurse who saw me was very worried and I was admitted to A&E, then overnight for tests. I was also given antibiotics, and am now waiting for two follow-up outpatient appointments. The pains in my back worried the medical staff – but clearly not the emergency doctor the night before.

I must stress that once within A&E everyone was supportive. It’s just why should I have to go through all of that to get treated. The original GP must have had access to my records, so would know that I’m not the sort of person to call someone out for a stubbed toe.

A week later, late Sunday night I knew I had to take my daughter to the emergency GP’s. She was showing the same symptoms. This time I was told that a GP would call me back within the hour. I called back an hour later, was told I would get a call, but they were very busy. I did finally get a call but was told to go up an hour later. When I arrived they weren’t very busy, just steady. At worst during my three and a half hour visit, there were eight patients. But no nurses and one doctor. And of course a receptionist.

One patient was a baby, aged about ten months, clearly with a high temperature, sweaty and hot. That family waited four hours, while others came and went in a much shorter time. Why they didn’t just march round to A&E around the corner, I’ll never know. When we saw the GP he was very kind, prescribed medicine, apologised saying two nurses had gone home, short staffed. SO NOT BUSY, JUST SHORT OF PEOPLE.

The following day, my hubby had same symptoms and no voice. Called surgery this time. Thought I’d make an emergency appointment that day – was told that a nurse would call me back. WHAT IS THIS ‘SOMEONE WILL CALL YOU BACK’ RUBBISH? Why can’t you just make an appointment?

I explained that my husband couldn’t talk but was capable of driving to the surgery if he could have an appointment. No, someone would have to take the telephone call. Could I wait half an hour? I had to go to work, I explained. Anyone would have thought I’d said I was going to commit burglary. Going to work? I should be clearly available at their convenience. Eventually a nurse did phone, and within 10 seconds offered an appointment later that morning.

What’s happened to our service in Swindon that we now have this mess? There’s no customer service, little apology, it feels as if we are expected to be grateful for a long-winded process? Where are we when a sick baby is held by its mother in front of a receptionist for four hours without being seen?

What's the score with Swindon's out-of-hours GP services?