Could this be one of the reasons the NHS is failing?

doctorI am passionate about the benefits of the NHS — the way it helps everyone in society, the way it keeps costs for patients from spiraling out of control. Just like in any large institution, it has dedicated people working hard and it has people who punch the clock or retreat into the bureaucracy. Perhaps the last category is not entirely their fault — the NHS is an organisation that runs on rules. Unfortunately those nonsensical rules make it less efficient and more costly.

This week I had a doctor’s appointment to talk over an issue I’ve been having for a while. It was a follow-up to my last appointment and I scheduled it weeks in advance so I’d get the same doctor that I spoke with before, one who seemed to understand the issue and was willing to help me get to the bottom of it.

On the day, work got crazy and there was just no way I could take time out to visit the surgery. But I had the appointment for which I waited weeks, the doctor knew me. Surely she could just call me instead?

You can guess what happened.

I called, I talked to someone on the front desk team. “You have an in-person appointment. All the phone appointments are taken.”

“Yes, but she’s due to see me in this time slot. Instead of my sitting in her office talking to her, why can’t she just call me at the same time?”

“I’m not authorised to change it from an office appointment to a phone appointment.”

I pressed. She put me on hold to talk to her supervisor. The answer came back: They did not have “authorisation” to “change the appointment”.

I have other examples and I don’t even have extensive medical needs, such as the time I needed a refill on a prescription at the weekend and was required to talk to a call centre administrator, a call centre doctor and go into the emergency clinic to see a doctor in person. He listened to my situation, picked up his pad and wrote the prescription. I left, walking past a roomful of other patients, some of whom probably really needed examining by a doctor.

Until the NHS starts operating in commonsense ways, with people acting like people and not bureaucrats, we’ll continue to have longer waiting times; escalating costs; patients, doctors and administrators all under pressure, stressed out, at the breaking point.

Until then, we’ll be spending money and energy going round the houses to achieve solutions we could have gotten to in a straight line.

Of course we should pressure the government to provide adequate funding and support for the NHS. Equally we should demand that the NHS work with people and for people instead of only thinking of targets, procedures, processes and authorisations.

Just imagine — you could contact your local surgery or go into an examination room and talk with a person not a mere employee!

Have you had a frustrating bureaucratic experience with your local surgery or NHS hospital?

I’d love to hear your story!


Share Button

About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel,, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.



  1. 08 June 2018 / 07:44

    Absolutely agree. Recently my optician said I needed to be tested for cholesterol due to an issue she spotted with my eye. I phoned my doctor and the receptionist said I had to make an appointment with the doctor first to make a booking for bloods. I suggested a telephone call as the doctor would not be able to see the issue with my eye which is an indication of high cholesterol. The bookable appointments for the next few weeks would not be released for another 4 days, I couldn’t get a same day appointment as it wasn’t an emergency. I waited two weeks to see a doctor. When I got there I was told that was bonkers, I could have just booked bloods, they couldn’t do it then as the blood collection by the hospital had already been done. Another week later and more time off work I got my bloods. I recently had to have some more
    Bloods and needed a follow up appointment. No appointments for two weeks. They are all full. The following spots don’t open up until later today. I just want to speak to the same doctor. I light me able to see her early mid July, but I’ll have to ring in a few weeks. I too love the NHS but we need to get the reality of the numbers needing services and the range of needs. Lots of issues could be resolved be triaging over the phone with a clinical professional in the first instance, not an administrator.

  2. 11 June 2018 / 13:23

    Sorry to hear you guys have had problems, personally my interactions with the NHS have been very good, from skin conditions, dental and even emergency appendicitis. My local practice seems to be a good one, although I do have to take time off work to get an appointment. That said I have been willing to see any Doctor at the practice, rarely seen my own Doctor over the years.
    Things are different for my Wife being a Primary Teacher, she can’t just nab time off for a small health issue (like me) so will often just ignore it – that isn’t great. She has also had run-ins with repeat descriptions etc. Some aspects aren’t catering well for certain lifestyles/Professionals.
    It seems like the NHS is stretched and the working hours and processes are being re-worked to try and stick to their budgets. An aging population and modern lifestyles aren’t exactly helping.
    I’m just really glad we still have the NHS, I imagine it will become privatised in years to come.

    • 12 June 2018 / 15:43

      I agree, Scott. I think the NHS provides such an amazing service. We just need to stop gov’t making it less efficient and make it work for the health professionals and their patients!