"Useless new appointments system"

About: Devon Access and Referral Team (DART)

(as the patient),

Useless new appointments system

Last week my GP referred me for investigations for both my knee and my elbow. A letter arrived very quickly from DART - Devon Access and Referral Team - giving me an 0845 number to ring to book an appointment. I didn't know whether this was for my knee or my elbow. And as this was a non-geographic telephone code it meant I was paying for my call in addition to my contract.

It took more than six minutes for the female on the other end of the 'phone to book me an appointment for my knee; this I find almost unbelievable with a computerised system.

Cut to this morning when a letter arrived saying an appointment had been booked at the hospital for me. I presumed it was for my elbow - again it didn't say - and rang the hospital's central appointment booking service direct, as it was the same date and time as my knee appointment. I spoke to an incredibly helpful woman called Nell, who, after 'phoning my GP surgery, said that the new appointment was for my knee. She even found out what had happened to my elbow referral.

I think DART is a real waste of money; why didn't the money go direct to the hospital's booking service along with the fifty staff DART employs? The DART staff seem under-trained and you end up 'phoning the hospital in any case to find out what is going on. So I think a waste of my time and theirs. In my opinion, as the NHS rarely actually sacks anyone when their services are no longer required - they are merely given some other meaningless task to do, or "redeployed" in NHS-speak – I think this will be an ongoing extra layer of non-frontline NHS staff acting as a barrier between the patient and the service they are trying to access.

In a sentence, I believe DART doesn't seem to know its knee from its elbow...

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Response from Susan Pearce, Project Support Manager, DART (Devon Access & Referral Team), NHS Devon We are preparing to make a change

Dear Frances-Clare,

Thank you for taking the time to let us know about your experience of the new DART service. We value all feedback and use the information to try and improve our processes.

Regarding our use of an 0845 number, this was decided upon as the more suitable option for most people as it guarantees that no-one has to pay more than a local rate charge, no matter what phone line they call from. However, we realise that, depending on what phone package you are using, some patients will have to pay a charge rather than make use of their free calls and so we are looking into options that would allow people to choose an ‘01’ number to call if this suits them better.

I’m sorry that you feel the length of time taken to book the appointment was too long. Six minutes is not far off the average length of our phone calls and we work through the computer system as quickly as we can but there are a number of required fields before we can access the appointments page.

I can’t be sure without seeing it but it sounds like the letter you received was the appointment confirmation letter that the hospital sends out after we book an appointment. You should have been told to expect one and my apologies if you weren’t. The letter should have had our number on it in case of problems and we have asked for this to be changed so that patients only have to phone one place if they need to change their appointment or with any queries such as yours regarding the appointment for your elbow, which we would have been happy to help you with.

I’m sorry that you feel that the person you spoke to was not experienced enough. We do have some new members of staff here but they have all been trained and have mentors assigned to them should they receive a query that they have not come across before.

The main reason that patients are asked to phone us instead of the hospital directly is so that we can offer the patient a choice of hospital to be seen at and answer any questions that the patient may have regarding making that decision. Patients have a right to go to any hospital offering the service they require and we can access information about the different hospitals in the area. I’m very sorry that it felt to you like we were acting as a barrier between you and the hospital – our aim is quite the opposite.

Kind regards,


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