we make 350 phone calls to get national picture on healthcare
The Sunday Independent made more than 350 phone calls to GP practices over the past month to shed light on the availability of doctors in every community across the country. Our aim was to demonstrate what issues patients encounter when trying to access medical care.
Each practice was asked: "Are you taking on new patients?" In some cases we were met with a straight response. When we were told "no" there would often be an apology.
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Sometimes, another practice would be suggested by the person answering the call. When we heard "yes" this would be followed by some chat about opening hours and how to register before our reporter resisted disclosing personal details and politely brought the conversation to an end.
In other instances the practice sought personal details. "Is it for yourself? Who am I speaking to? Where are you living? Are you a private patient or medical card holder?"
To deal with such questions it was necessary to exchange information.
Our undercover journalist posed as somebody who was new to the area. He was a prospective private patient looking to register with a local GP practice.
This element of subterfuge was justified as the only accurate way of verifying the response a member of the public would receive. The investigation was carried out in a manner similar to a secret-shopper survey.
Not every call to a practice was successful. In some cases the doctor was away, out on call or nobody was available. However, on 336 occasions a Sunday Independent journalist spoke to somebody and posed the question.