Overall, the city’s doctors received positive feedback, according to the findings of a survey carried out by Healthwatch Sunderland, a patients’ advocacy group, last year.
The exercise was intended to probe experiences of using Wearside’s hospital care services.
And while this largely appeared to show health provision in a good light, the top cause for complaint was found to be the difficulty of getting an appointment with a GP.
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Philip Foster, managing director at All Together Better, which works with health organisations in Sunderland and which carried out the survey, said it is an issue which was already being worked on.
“Despite some high levels of satisfaction with GPs, the most common complaint that we heard throughout the survey was related to people’s difficulty getting a GP appointment,” he told Monday’s (July 11) meeting of Sunderland City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board.
“That’s something that we did recognise and something that there is work going on at this moment in time about how we provide better access into GP surgeries.
“We do recognise that people were reporting they were having difficulty getting through on the phone and that’s linked to some work that’s underway.”
Kelly Chequer, the panel’s chairman and the city council’s cabinet member for Healthy City, added the issue is something local authority bosses are already aware of and keen to keep on the agenda.
She said: “I know people around this room are particularly concerned about access to GPs, it comes up every single meeting, it comes up with our residents out in Sunderland.
“It is something that as a health and wellbeing board we need to be ensuring that this is a priority.”
Dominic McDonough, who represents the city’s St Chad’s ward, added although access was an issue, it was also important to raise awareness visiting a GP is not always the most appropriate action.
He said: “We’ve discussed before that actually in many cases going to a GP is not the best thing for them, they can access other services.
“I do think that GPs are still seen as the gateway to other services when that’s not necessarily correct. I think we need to inform people better.”
Louise Farthing, cabinet member for children, learning and skills, echoed concerns over long waits in phone queues and called for alternative access methods to be looked at.
She said: “You can get prescriptions online but you can’t get your appointments online, and I think that’s something I would encourage the NHS to look at in order to support GP practices with.
“I appreciate that not everybody has got online services, but the vast majority of us do now use smartphones and use those types of services.”
Health chiefs added they are working on improving use of digital services, while also attempting to balance the risk of ‘digital exclusion’ for those who struggle to access or afford internet services.