Residents in a South London neighbourhood without an NHS surgery are going private to avoid hour-long phone queues and month-long waiting times to see a doctor.

The 16,000 people who call the leafy Lewisham suburb of Forest Hill home have to trek to nearby areas like Sydenham, Dulwich and Perry Vale to see a doctor. 

But residents say they’re ‘increasingly struggling to get hold of a GP’ and complain of long waiting times and poor service.

Locals say the time has come for Forest Hill to finally get its own GP, which they believe will allow them to see a doctor quicker and take pressure off existing nearby surgeries.

News Shopper: Forest Hill in LewishamForest Hill in Lewisham

Ali Barnes, who moved into the area recently with her husband Philippe, said she was told she couldn’t be seen for a month when she tried to book an appointment at one nearby surgery.

She said: “We tried a local one and it was horrible. It was hard to get an appointment. Appointments took a month [to get].”

The experience was so bad the couple have given up on local surgeries altogether and instead use Babylon Health, a service that lets people book and see a doctor on their phone, if they need a GP appointment. 

Mrs Barnes added: “It’s good that you don’t have to wait on the phone to get an appointment to see someone. But it’s annoying that if you do want someone in person, you have to do the phone call first.”

Another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said her poor experience of trying to get a GP appointment in the area had pushed her to sign-up for private healthcare. 

The woman, a mum with a young daughter, said: “I’m having to be on hold for an hour and getting on to a receptionist and being asked ‘but is it urgent?’ I’ve lived in London since I was a teenager and previously I could call my GP and he knew my family. I have private healthcare now.”

Labour-run Lewisham Council has agreed to ask the council’s health and wellbeing board to consider plans to increase the number of doctors in the area.

But the power to make this happen rests with the South East London Integrated Care Board, the body responsible for planning NHS services locally. 

In the meantime, pressures on nearby GPs are unlikely to ease. Over 200 new homes are expected to be built in Forest Hill in coming years and another 60 have recently been completed. 

The Vale Medical Centre in Perry Vale, a 20-minute walk from Forest Hill, said the number of patients on its books had increased due to the area’s growing population.

Riaz Jetah, who runs the surgery, said the practice was providing more appointments than ever before in order to deal with the extra patients.

Carolina Garcia, 43, who has used The Vale Medical Centre for nine years, said it was clear the practice was struggling to deal with the number of patients signing up.

She said: “I’ve been with them for nine years now and it has definitely got worse. I think we need one [another GP surgery]. You can tell its oversubscribed.”

Chris Crouch, 59, said the pressure on GPs around Forest Hill was also being felt across the rest of the borough. 

News Shopper: Chris CrouchChris Crouch

Mr Crouch, who is signed up to Morden Hill Surgery in Lewisham, said: “You have to ring at eight in the morning and you can wait up to an hour on the phone. You can get a same-day appointment but it takes that hour to get through. 

“I think the area [Lewisham borough] definitely needs another surgery. We’ve got lots of new blocks with thousands of people and there’s no more allocation for doctors.”

Local resident Pauline West had one idea. Pointing to the former home of Wetherspoon Forest Hill that shut its doors last month, she said: “This would make a nice doctors.

"We could have quite a few doctors and nurses. I think it’s a good place to have one. Even if they made it a walk-in clinic, that would be great.”