Pharmacy First goes live on February 1st, 2024

Starting February 1st, 2024, NHS England has created a new scheme to help ease the pressure on UK General Practice. It is called “Pharmacy First pathways”, encouraging eligible patients to utilise these services for timely and effective care. “Right patient, Right place, Right time, First time”

Need help with a non-urgent medical or admin request? Contact us online.

Challenges contacting the Practice

Dear Patients,

We are aware that our patients are experiencing longer wait times in call queues than ever before. There are multiple reasons for this, but we are committed to finding ways to reduce waiting times and improve our service as soon as possible.

The Issues

Last October, we changed our phone system as part of an NHS England initiative (source: We had to adopt specific specifications to qualify for funding and adhere to our GMS contract. While it wasn’t our preferred choice for telephony, we have been learning and fine-tuning the system since then. However, we are still frustrated with some of its functionality.

Unfortunately, due to the demands of the job and verbal abuse directed at our Patient Navigators (Reception staff) by some patients, we lost a number of experienced staff earlier this year. We have managed to replace these staff members, but the new team members are currently undergoing training and may not be as productive for some time as they learn the intricacies of their roles.

Recently, there has been a significant increase in call volume through our phone lines. Many of these calls could have been handled through self-help, accessing local and more appropriate services, patients being more organised (e.g., timely prescription requests), or by showing patience (e.g., waiting for call-backs or test results).

Our Vision

Our goals are as follows:

  • Answer calls within 3 minutes.
  • Educate patients on the correct pathways for medical queries and information.
  • Retain our staff and support a zero-tolerance policy towards abusive calls.
  • Encourage the use of online consultations for routine queries to free up phone lines for same-day medical emergencies.
  • Ensure that patients have a positive experience when contacting the practice.

Progress and Changes Implemented This Week:

This week, we have introduced new telephony features, including:

Informing you of your position in the queue. Each queue position represents approximately 1.5 minutes, so being 10th in the queue would mean a 15-minute wait.

Offering a ‘call back’ option if your wait time exceeds 3 minutes. You will be prompted to provide an 11-digit UK contact number and then you can hang up. Your position in the queue will be saved, and the system will contact you as soon as a Patient Navigator becomes available. Please note that the system will only attempt to call back twice, with a 5-minute interval between each call. If you do not answer, your call back will be cancelled. Please keep your phone in a place with a strong signal, set to a loud ringer volume, and keep it with you at all times. St. Paul’s mainline number will be displayed when we attempt to call you back. It would be useful to save 01962 853599 in your phone so that you recognise our call.

We have added more subject choices to our options list. As a result, you will now receive tailored educational messages based on your specific query. Many administrative queries (such as prescriptions, test results, referrals, fit notes, and private letters/reports) can be best handled by requesting them through our website. It is quicker, easier, and safer.

We have recently hired more Patient Navigators, and once they complete their training, this will reduce call wait times.

Patient Education

  • Use our website ‘Who Do I See’ information tool to effectively direct your medical query. This will save you time in the long run. Link:
  • Make use of our online Accurx e-consult service for all routine queries, including non-urgent medical queries, fit note requests, and referral queries. Link:
  • Access the NHSApp to review your recent test requests. Please allow 5 working days for the information to appear. Link:
  • When making phone calls, please be mindful that there are other patients waiting in the queue. Our intention is to address your request promptly, so let’s focus on the matter at hand rather than engaging in unrelated conversations. Our Patient Navigators will help move the conversations along for the sake of the queue.

Our Request of you

Given the aforementioned pressures, we are extremely disappointed by the significant number of patients who express their frustrations towards our staff members. It is important to remember that our staff did not cause the crisis, they have no influence over national/local policies, and they do not intend to offend or frustrate anyone. The majority of our staff members work in the NHS because they genuinely care about helping patients, not because it is an easy or well-paid job. At St Pauls Surgery, we are taking strict measures against verbally abusive patients. Please note that all calls are recorded. If patients exhibit verbally aggressive behaviour going forward, they will receive a written warning, and if the behaviour persists, they will be deregistered from the practice. It’s important to remember that being angry or demanding does not expedite the consultation process.

Thank you for listening and for your patience with this matter.

St Paul’s Surgery