A woman speaking into a mobile phone

Make GP Bookings Accessible

After being flooded with stories of our members' GP appointment booking nightmares, our new campaign is pushing to make systems more accessible for people who stammer.

In early 2023, a STAMMA member told us they were struggling to make a GP appointment because of a stammering-unfriendly booking system.

We wondered if this was a one-off, so we surveyed our membership and asked for their experiences. The results show that lots of them are finding booking appointments with their doctor really difficult.

Between January and June 2023, over 300 members responded to our survey, and it uncovered disconcerting insights:

  • Over two thirds of all respondents, 68%, reported they can only book a GP appointment using the phone. The telephone of course being a source of anxiety for many who stammer.
  • 41% of people who stammer reported they find it 'very difficult' using the phone to book an appointment. This compares with 23% of people who don't stammer. 
  • 54% of people who stammer experienced mental distress around using the phone to make appointments. 

People answering the survey reported they had been hung up on, misunderstood, rushed, laughed at, or simply not given enough time to explain their needs. This led some to delay making appointments or even avoid them altogether, which has impacted their health.

Your experiences

Since sharing the survey results with our members last week, lots of you have emailed us with similar experiences at your local clinic:

"I just wanted to scream 'Why are you making it so hard for me?!"'

"Endless waiting in the phone queue and being cut off because I can't speak quick enough or the auto machine doesn't understand me. I've just given up trying now!"

"I have had a prescription for a controlled drug for the past 5 years. Every year I have to have a review and this year the pharmacist has added a note to my prescription saying 'speech was slow, CHECK BEFORE ISSUING'. I am now worried that I will lose access to my prescription."

In our 2023 poll of a representative sample of over 6,000 UK adults, 1.8% said they stammer. That's an average of 75 registered adult patients who stammer for each GP surgery!  

Download the full report of experiences of people who stammer when making a GP appointment below.

This needs to change

So, we are pushing for nationwide changes to GP appointment booking systems. GP surgeries need to review their systems and provide staff training around stammering and disfluency.

We need:

  1. Flexible appointment booking channels so that people have the choice to call or use an alternative channel.
  2. Training for receptionists so they can engage with disfluent callers. 
  3. The implementation of opt-in patient record flags for people who stammer. This way, when someone phones up, the system automatically tells the receptionist that the caller stammers.

Download our 'Stammering & Patient Contact' guide below. It gives recommendations and tips for making the patient's journey accessible for people who stammer.

We want to stress that this is not an attack on the NHS, which is amazing and something to be proud of and celebrated. However, healthcare is a basic right that everyone should have access to, and our surveys found that's currently not the case.

Campaign progess

Update, April 2024: 

Since launching, we have collaborated with NHS England, Healthwatch, Integrated Care Boards (ICB) and other organisations, resulting in positive engagement and widespread dissemination of the campaign. 

NHS England disseminated our recommendations and patient contact guide via their national Primary Care Bulletin. Several organisations committed to promoting our guide, and regional Healthwatch branches shared the campaign within their networks. Quote from Jason Griffiths, Chief Officer, Healthwatch Dudley:

"Through Healthwatch Dudley and STAMMA working together, we've gained a deeper insight into the communication challenges people encounter when trying to access GP appointments and Health and Social Care Services. This collaboration has not only helped us better understand but also enables us to share valuable information in our reports and recommendations, championing inclusivity and accessibility for everyone. Our upcoming GP Practice Access report will help share vital experiences and challenges to access and help inform future primary care provision in the Black Country." 

As well as that, our recommendations and guide were featured in quarterly publications of Northern Ireland Healthcare Review, Scottish Healthcare Review and Welsh Pharmacy Review, which are available online and in print. 

We also invited healthcare professionals to a free online workshop on engaging with patients who stammer. Here's some anonymous feedback:

"I've never even thought before how this would be a problem. How naïve was I? It's important to get the word out to the general public and professionals the barriers and exclusion people face."

Overall, the campaign has generated significant interest and engagement from both individuals and organisations. The findings and recommendations have laid the groundwork for important changes to improve accessibility to basic healthcare for those who stammer. Continued efforts and collaboration with influencers in the healthcare sector will ensure lasting impact of this initiative.

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Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

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