Another routine check-up at the hospital today. At one of the hospitals, that is: East/Central London seems to be cared for by a NHS trust that’s split between two hospitals – the Royal London Hospital and St Barts Hospital and they specialise in somewhat different things. So I go to one of them for obstetric check-ups, and the other for endocrine check-ups. Luckily we happen to live very close to one, and work very close to the other one, so both are easy to get to.
Just like with all my previous visits, the waiting time was really disappointing. I was there 10.25 for a 10.30 appointment, and didn’t see the doctor until 11.30. An hour’s wait for 15 minutes with the doctor… And this isn’t the accidents & emergency unit, where a sudden surge of patients could conceivably overload the staff for a period. This is routine care, booked months in advance. Furthermore, 10:30 is early in the day – I believe the earliest one is at 9.45 or possibly 9.30, so they shouldn’t have time to fall so far behind.
Looking back over last year, I don’t think I’ve ever been seen within 30 minutes of the appointed time, at either of the hospitals. There seems to be a fairly consistent 30–60 minute delay. This isn’t coincidence any more; there has got to be a systematic problem behind these delays. Are the doctors all chronically late getting into the office in the morning? Or is it the day’s first patients that are late and disrupt the schedule? Or do doctors all overbook (like airlines)? I did overhear once that a lot of patients never cancel their appointment if they can’t make it – they just don’t turn up. So perhaps doctors count on these cancellations to balance out the workload, on average, throughout the day… Otherwise I can’t see how they would ever have time for lunch, or see the last patient before closing time.
Interestingly, my experience from my local clinic, which is also NHS-run, is different. There is often some waiting time, but it’s in the range of 5–15 minutes or so. Another telling fact: the hospitals have piles of dog-eared magazines in their waiting rooms (today’s crop: Saga Magazine from Nov and Dec 2005, and National Geographic Magazine) and the chairs are wide and soft, if worn. The clinic on the other hand has no magazines and simple plastic chairs. Part of the difference is probably due to cash constraints, but part of it might well reflect awareness of real differences in expected waiting times.
It’s a good thing that I don’t have many more of these appointments coming up.
I’m even considering an experiment: try and see what happens if I just turn up 30 minutes late. If I still get slotted into the right place in the queue, then that would save me 30 minutes of hanging around. On the other hand, they might just consider me a no-show and cancel my appointment…