Patients have claimed they queued outside a South London GP surgery for over an hour in an attempt to see a doctor.

Around 40 people are said to have lined up at Hilly Fields Medical Centre in Ladywell, South East London from 7am on Wednesday morning (April 10) to secure an appointment.

Patients said it was practically impossible to book to see a doctor at the surgery by phone or online and said receptionists had advised them to try queueing outside before it opened at 8am.

News Shopper:  Around 40 people lined up at Hilly Fields Medical Centre in Ladywell, South East London from 7am on Wednesday morning (April 10) to secure an appointment. CREDIT: Anna-Maria Cahalane

But half an hour after the practice opened on Wednesday morning, they were told by a staff member not to bother waiting any longer as the surgery had run out of emergency appointments.

Anna-Maria Cahalane, 50, who arrived in line at 7:30am, was one of the patients to be turned away after waiting for over an hour.

She said: “Getting a face to face appointment is like gold dust. If you can get an appointment, it’s a phone appointment, but it’s very lucky to get that. 

“Everybody is waiting by their phone at 8am and either it’s engaged or you go automatically into a queue. My average wait is an hour and 10 minutes. They advise you to come and queue [in person].”

She added: “Everybody is so stressed. You’ve got elderly people in the queue. You have got parents trying to get help for their babies.

"Because you’re so close together [in the queue] there’s no personal privacy. Last time there was a lady going through a miscarriage and she’s going through all the trauma and having to share that with everyone.”

Ayca Ozturk, 40, who was also turned away, joked that she’d consider arriving at 6am next time. She said: “One hour I waited in the queue. It used to be online to get an appointment but there’s never anything there [any more]. 

“On the phone you can’t talk to them. There’s 30 people in the queue. They say ‘come and queue at 8am’.

“She [the receptionist] was rude and said there’s no appointments, just telephone appointments. When I accepted that, she said there’s no telephone appointments as well.”

Both patients said seeing a doctor had become much harder since the onset of Covid-19 in 2020. Ms Cahalane, whose former GP practice closed down at the beginning of the pandemic, said she would never have to wait more than 10 minutes on the phone to get a face to face appointment at her previous surgery. 

She added: “I find it so stressful to get through the system. How bad does it have to get someone to see me? It’s pushing people to A&E. 

“There’s always a different answer [to why you can’t get an appointment]. Sometimes it’s that the app is not working. Even the little things: you can’t get a blood test printed off because the printer is broken. It’s massively concerning.” 

Speaking anonymously, a staff member at the surgery blamed the long waits patients were experiencing on a lack of staff. They said: “We are short of staff. We don’t have enough. There’s only two working on reception. 

“They [patients] can see it everyday they come here. It becomes really delayed on the phones. We are also short of doctors. We do the best we can.” 

The Lewisham Care Partnership, which runs Hilly Fields Medical Centre, was contacted for comment but had failed to reply at the time of publication, but a spokesman for the South East London Integrated Care Board, overseeing primary care in the area, told The London Evening Standard: “Hilly Fields Medical Centre apologised for the inconvenience patients experienced today.

“The practice is planning to implement a new call hub in the next 10 days which should improve their response to phone calls, and they will be launching an online triage system soon, which should also make it easier for patients to contact the practice.

“These actions are part of local work to implement the National Primary Care Access Recovery Plan.”