For the political parties, it’s conference season. But while many politicians have been distracted by these events, I have been busy here in Swindon focusing on local issues.

A little under a month ago, a new GP hub went live in Swindon after the local Clinical Commissioning Group and GPs took the decision to create a new system with the aim to deliver more GP appointments.

The Hub is supported by the IMH Group, which already offers back-office support to some local surgeries, which GPs say has allowed them to stabilise their practices and focus more on clinical decisions.

Under the new system, if an appointment isn’t available at someone’s surgery, patients will be offered the option of an appointment at a nearby surgery where there may be more capacity. However, people can still turn this down and choose to attend their own surgery and see their own doctor if they want to.

The principle of the change is a good one. However the implementation of the system has been poor. Patients (myself included) were not told about the changes and phone lines were busy.

Since the launch, I have been in almost daily contact with the CCG and the management team at the hub, feeding in concerns from fellow local residents and pushing for urgent action to make improvements.

Following my latest meeting, the management team have rightly apologised again for the initial problems. They took the time to address concerns and commit to improvements to deliver a better system than the old one.

On the phones they have taken action by recruiting more call handlers; meaning that at peak times they now have 14 people answering calls – more than there were under the old multi-surgery system.

While waits will always be longer at peak times, I was pleased that the average call times are already back down and the majority of people are being given same-day appointments at either one of the surgeries.

I also raised the issue of elderly, disabled, and vulnerable patients as I wanted to know that patients who may struggle to travel further will be prioritised for their own/nearest surgeries. I was pleased that the team behind the Hub explained that they will of course prioritise elderly, disabled, and vulnerable patients at their home surgery.

While the Hub isn’t able to write to the nearly 60,000 patients served by this new system, they have rightly now promised to advertise the changes more widely, including with regards to the new online booking system, and via each of the surgery websites (once they have the access codes – another hurdle they had faced).

Finally, the Hub’s aim is to offer standardised GP appointments from 9am till 6pm, which means there will be more appointments available for local residents. With the centralised model, they also hope to be able to refer people more quickly and efficiently to the medical service they need (blood testing, asthma, physio etc).

With more call handlers, improvements to the phone system, a coordinated online booking system and standardised GP appointments; clinicians are confident that this service will deliver more available GP appointments with increased flexibility for local residents. I will continue to monitor this roll out very closely, and if anyone does experience problems, they shouldn’t hesitate to contact me so that I can raise these –