Our award-winning mystery shoppers have been out again

Earlier this year, some of our volunteers acted as "mystery shoppers" and got in touch with all GP practices in Dorset, Poole and Bournemouth.
Photo of woman at GP practice reception

They wanted to find out what guidance and information is provided by local GP practices about how to register as a patient with them, how easy it is to get routine and urgent appointments, whether GP opening times are equitable across the county and also whether information provided about NHS111 services (whether through Out of Hours phone messages or online) is correct.

Some of the things we found were:

  • 93% of practices required ID or proof of address in order to register as a patient (even though the NHS itself says people shouldn't be refused registration or appointments because they don't have proof of address or ID). 13 practices had different information about registration on their website than they gave to our mystery shoppers when they contacted the practice in person. 
  • Waiting times for routine appointments differed in practices across the county, from next day to 4 weeks. All but 2 practices said they would usually be able to provide same day appointments for urgent cases. (However, many said that patients would need to call the practice early morning (8am) to see if an appointment would be available.) All practices said that patients could book routine appointments either in person, over the phone or online. However, online services varied from allowing patients to book, amend and cancel appointments for all the services or just for certain services and clinics/tests etc.
  • As for surgery opening times, we found many discrepancies between the information given over the phone and information provided on practice websites and NHS Choices (and on Google). 
  • We have set out all our findings in a report. We have shared our report with all GP practices in the county and with NHS Dorset CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group). Already, many practices have been in touch with us to thank us for our report and to tell us that they are going to be providing more training for their staff as a result.

You can read our report and the response received from NHS Dorset Clinical Commissioning Group through the "You might also be interested in" link below.

Our findings also form part of a report produced jointly by all 5 local Healthwatch organisations across the Wessex region (Dorset, Hampshire and Isle of Wight), which you can read here.