Are you suffering from the latest modern day health epidemic - ‘Where do I find a doctor in a hurry syndrome’? Panic attack hovering in the background as your heart palpitates at the thought of the endless waiting lists? The permanently engaged reception phone lines, queues to see the doctor, and your ever increasing fear that the overly stressed incumbent of your local practise will retire long before a qualified replacement is found. What will you do when you urgently need medical help and the odds of finding it are overwhelmingly stacked against you?
Some local GP clinics have appointments available the same day or possibly the next, but more and more have no time slots free for a week or even longer. So what if you need something faster than that - or if you are taken ill on the dreaded Friday afternoon with an entire weekend looming until you can speak to the receptionist on Monday morning, begging for assistance. Will you even make it to Monday morning?
I used to just hang on and pray, but I have recently found a minor miracle of a service - a number of online and same day clinics that you can access instantly, without having to be registered. Enterprising doctors have been busily grouping together, dreaming up practical solutions, with forests of options springing from the darkness of nothing. You do have to pay, but really not a lot – and what price peace of mind?
Boy, are they needed, based on the depressing NHS doctor statistics bandied about in the media on a weekly basis. Did you know that on average in the UK it took about two weeks to see an NHS doctor in 2018, according to a survey by Pulse, the GPs’ newsletter, and that about 40% of patients have to wait longer than 14 days? This is up from waiting 10 days in 2015.
But necessity is the mother of invention, and out of the chaos of overcrowded surgeries and retiring and highly stressed doctors, innovation has bloomed. There are now two different ‘instant’ services on offer. Both extremely useful depending on your problem. Same day web-based consultations via your mobile phone, computer or iPad or same day face-to-face appointments with a doctor based in a (hopefully nearby) clinic to which you still have to travel.
The benefits of same day doctor services
No need to take time off work is a particularly good one. You can see someone early in the morning or late at night if you need to. And - unlike the system to which we are all now accustomed, which gives you a brief 5 minute consultation if you are lucky - there are no restrictions on time with the doctor. You can talk at your leisure and be heard.
And choosing an on-line appointment removes the need to sit for hours in a waiting room crowded with sick people, with the uneasy thought that you may come out having caught something you didn’t go in with and end up sicker than when you started.
Both styles have their plus points. If all you wanted was the chance to discuss your symptoms with a doctor, without the need of a physical examination, on-line could be your answer. If you prefer the real thing, why not step outside of your normal comfort zone and simply experiment and visit a ‘same day’ clinic. For little more than the price of a pizza for two, you can access 10 minutes of expert time, and if you need longer you simply pay an additional fee. Your bill is adjusted accordingly at the end of the session.
Statistics show that once we open a bank account most of us never change bank again. The same is true for doctor’s practices. Familiarity seems somehow reassuring. But in both cases, you may get better service elsewhere. How will you know if you don’t try?
Instant access to a doctor
I tore a muscle in my ribs recently, trying to unstick a firmly stuck door, pushing hard at a strange angle. After a terrifying ‘ripping’ and ‘cracking’ sound somewhere in my chest, where I thought I must have snapped a bone at the very least, the pain settled down to a steady ache that gradually got worse and stabbed more acutely over the following 8 days. I rarely go to a doctor, and yet, abroad and on a Saturday morning, the pain got so bad that I thought I might have made a serious mistake not finding one sooner. But what to do? My normal doctor’s surgery in the UK doesn’t take calls or emails on a weekend, and I was in a land where I suspected I wouldn’t have understood much of what a local doctor would have told me. That weekend thing again - why is it that when bad things happen it’s always at a weekend?
I had heard, however, of Push Doctor (pushdoctor.co.uk), which employs between 50-100 experienced doctors, many of whom have left the employ of the NHS to freelance, reducing both their hours and their stress levels in one fell swoop. I googled in desperation at 8am, when all of a sudden I really wanted an experienced doctor who knew what they were talking about and could put my mind, as well as my pain, at ease.
Push Doctor’s strap line is ‘Online video appointments with NHS-trained GPs whenever you want, from wherever you are’. Perfect. They go on to say that they ‘can treat almost everything a traditional GP can, providing prescriptions, sick notes and referral letters for a whole host of conditions’. You sign up to their site, which is a quick and simple process, and then make the decision to become a ‘member’ (in which case each appointment costs £20 plus a £3 a month ongoing fee) or ‘pay as you go’ (where each appointment costs a flat £30). That gets you 10 minutes with the doctor. An additional 10 minutes costs another £15; if you need a prescription it’s another £8 admin fee to call it through to the pharmacy of your choice and a referral letter comes in at £15. It’s a pick’n’mix approach that is simple to get your head around - and affordable. Available from 8am to 7pm seven days a week and best of all very fast indeed. It took me all of 3 minutes to sign up and get an appointment time 50 minutes later.
You click into their ‘waiting room’ 30 minutes before your appointment and a number countdown shows you how many people are booked in before you. You can continue your ironing or sending your emails while you wait - no time wasted. When the doctor appears on your screen, after a quick scan of your driving licence or passport, you are ready to go. It felt almost exactly as if I was sitting across from a doctor in my own practice - no difference except I knew I had twice the usual time allotted.
Dr Mirza was empathetic and experienced. He did my first ‘on-line physical’, with me pressing the areas he suggested and feeding back the pain level. He knew exactly what the problem was and answered all my questions knowledgeably and efficiently, and then gave me the solution I needed. 10 minutes later, my problem sorted, my mind at rest (which was almost the most important part of the session) and I hadn’t had to trek anywhere for the help. Just sit quietly in the privacy of my own room.
One of my readers brought Doctap to my attention shortly after I started this blog. Doctap (www.doctap.co.uk) has 13 central London clinics and over 39,000 people have used their services since they started out a couple of years ago. Their appointments last 15 mins and cost £49 for same day bookings, reducing to £34 if you make the booking two days in advance. Weekends come in higher at £59 for a same day option. Doctap had a highly successful CQC inspection last year and are currently employing 35 doctors, all of whom work part time for the NHS too. I booked in for an appointment to try them out and compare to the online site. I was interested to check out their clinic and find out how their particular concept has been received, and can report that both seem highly satisfactory. Their Notting Hill clinic is clean, bright and spacious, and the receptionist unflustered. Appointments tend to be done on-line, leaving her free to talk calmly to the clients when they arrived without the constant interruption of phone calls. I had something in my ear this time, and clearly, it would have been very hard to have had this consultation online - not feasible to check deep inside it with a light, and clean it out unless you were there in person. (Do the doctors need access to your past notes…? What if it’s continual high blood pressure...?)
Another friend raves about Same Day Doctor (samedaydoctor.org). Also staffed by professional NHS (either ex or part-time) doctors, this is a walk-in clinic in Marylebone, London where you can get instant access every day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays. Appointments can be made by email, telephone or simply by walking in any time between 8am and 7pm, with shorter hours at the weekends. They also offer blood tests, x-rays and scans, referrals to specialists and full sexual health tests including full STD testing.
My friend had an accident in the gym, which left her right knee in continual pain, and despite her usual GP assuring her it was nothing to worry about, and despite signing up for physio, Pilates and endless chiropractic appointments, nearly a year later, it still hadn’t improved. Reading about Same Day Doctor one afternoon, she determined, finally, to get a second opinion and an hour later she was in their clinic seeing what she described as ‘the most extraordinarily knowledgeable GP’. Retired from NHS work, he spent two days a week at the clinic and the rest of his free time writing a book. Within minutes he had referred her for an MRI, and at 9pm she found herself just down the road being scanned. The following morning he telephoned through his analysis of the scan, and the long and the short of it was that Pilates or no Pilates, time was simply never going to heal the problem. A clean-out of the knee was the only option, and he referred her then and there. She was bowled over by the efficiency of the whole experience, and traumatised by the time that had already been wasted and the unnecessary pain she had endured. And all for an £80 fee - for half an hour of the doctors time, his extensive knowledge and instant referral. The MRI was extra. She now raves about the clinic to all and sundry and has abandoned her former GP. You don’t know what you don’t know until you try something different.
There are several other organisations that offer a similar service - online booking so you don’t need to hold for hours for overworked receptionists, blood tests, medical screenings, specialist referrals and rapid test results. London Doctors Clinic (www.londondoctorsclinic.co.uk) has 15 locations across the capital and charges £59 for a 15 minute appointment. Private medical insurer Bupa has around 50 centres across the country where you can drop in to see a GP (www.bupa.co.uk/our-centres). The cost is £70 for a 15-minute appointment rather than a monthly insurance premium.
Thank goodness for all of them. There is a cost involved, but balance the time spent trying to get your NHS slot - the hours on hold on the phone, the time taken off work, the waste of time as you sit waiting long after your given appointment time, the delay to finding an effective solution to your health problem and additional time wasted, yet again, waiting for that referral (l’ve been told of regular waits of 6 months or more for a slot with a recommended specialist), let alone the worry and stress that builds up until it’s all resolved. It all seems fairly cheap at the price.
So, as ever, it’s horses for courses. Pick your option according to your issue and in theory you never need worry about access to a doctor again. Try it once - I guarantee you will be hooked.
And please, let me know how you get on.
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Read more from the archives, including up-to-date information on complementary therapies from alternative remedies for trigeminal neuralgia to natural remedies for gout to alternative treatments for shingles.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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