PATIENTS waiting on the end of a telephone to book GP appointments have no idea they will be left waiting, after queue numbers were axed.

Previously, patients using a new telephone booking system introduced by GP super-group Integral Medical Holdings, were told how many other people there were in front of them in the queue.

But now it appears queue numbers have been removed. Penhill woman Glynis Hales said: “You don’t know where you are and how long you’ve got to sit on the phone for. Although the waits were horrific before, you knew how long you were going to be spending on the phone.”

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Manchester-based IMH oversees five GP surgeries in the town: Moredon and Abbey Meads medical centres and the Phoenix, Eldene and Taw Hill surgeries. The firm found itself in the limelight earlier in the autumn. Patients complained of long delays after booking telephone lines for individual GP practices were replaced with a single Swindon-wide system.

A source working within the NHS in Swindon said: “If the queue numbers have been removed it’s just going to make patients more angry because they’ll still be on the phone for a long time but not have any idea if they’re making progress

“The plain fact is that IMH completely underestimated the amount of call handlers they needed.”

On Tuesday evening, chief nurse at Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group Gill May apologised for the problems surrounding the booking systems.

She told Swindon Borough Council’s health scrutiny committee: “We acknowledge the problems and we apologise to the public. The changes designed to improve access and capacity have caused more issues and the patient experience has not been acceptable.” No patients had come to harm as a result of the delays, she said. Extra call handlers would be employed to meet the high demand.

However, Haydon Wick ward councillor Oliver Donachie, replied: “I am not a medical man and I note you say no harm has been done. I can tell you a number of residents in my ward have experienced significant emotional distress. I’m not sure they’re seeing any improvement.”

Kate Linnegar, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for North Swindon, has called two public meetings to discuss the problems at the surgeries. The meetings will be held at Redhouse Community Centre, Frankel Avenue, tonight between 8pm and 10pm and at Moredon Community Centre, The Street, on Friday, 7pm-9pm. She said: “We need to get some answers before someone’s health is seriously compromised.”

Justin Tomlinson, North Swindon MP, said he had challenged IMH and the CCG over the delays: “Whilst the aims of the new medical hub are rightly based on increasing patient outcomes it is clear the implementation has been very poor.

“Working with Coun Oliver Donachie we have personally met both the CCG and IMH to raise directly the issues. Rightly, IMH has apologised and have agreed to increase staff and clinicians, open up the online booking facility and improve communications. This is welcome."

“I will absolutely keep up the pressure to ensure that these improvements are delivered. I will keep up my daily contact with both the CCG and IMH, will hold further meetings and will continue to feed in the experiences of local residents.”

IMH has been approached for comment.