Am Bratach No. 317
March 2018

Long wait for surgery phone repair
“BT isn’t really interested any more; they’ve gone slack on us” — Dr Herfurt

Armadale medical practice was left four days waiting for a BT engineer to attend the premises following a breakdown of the telephone system on Tuesday, February 20.

Dr Andreas Herfurt, lead GP at the practice, said: “We have two phone lines in the Armadale surgery, and an automated system that allocates incoming and outgoing calls to either of those lines, which means that two people can phone us at the same time. On Tuesday morning, the phones didn’t work at all, meaning the staff couldn’t do anything about it, but the phone was still going through to my house because when I was on call on Monday night the phone got diverted through to me, so all of Tuesday morning, my poor wife was inundated with phone calls from people asking for prescriptions.”

After numerous calls to BT by the practice manager, the system was eventually reset and worked for the duration of Tuesday afternoon. However, by Wednesday morning, the main line to the practice had stopped functioning altogether. “I cannot even think about how many hours our staff have spent trying to talk to BT and trying to get an engineer out”, Dr Herfurt said. “Because it’s a business, even though it should be seen as an essential business, not just any engineer can come out: it has to be someone from the corporate branch.”

Dr Herfurt sees the current system as a regression of previous arrangements between the former Highland Health Board and BT. “It used to be that even my private number was an agreed priority number,” in the event of a fault, he said. “Like all my colleagues, when we were on call, there was an agreement between the health board and BT that immediately, or within two hours or so, somebody was doing something. That was eighteen or so years ago. Times have changed. They’ve really gone slack on us.”

Although BT was able to remotely switch calls to the main number over to a fax line so the surgery could still take calls, patients experienced problems getting through on the single line. There were also issues overnight, when staff would usually place a divert on the line to the home number of the doctor on call.

“BT had to remotely switch the fax line onto the number one priority, otherwise the second line wouldn’t kick in”, Dr Herfurt explained. “That left us with a problem at night. We didn’t want to switch over the line to my phone in case we couldn’t revert it in the morning and therefore people wouldn’t be able to reach us at all. The second line also doesn’t connect with the answering machine. So at 5.30 pm we had BTswitching the lines again remotely.”

This scenario raises serious questions about whether a doctor could be reached in the event of an urgent out-of-hours call. “Luckily, most local people know that my number is in the phone book, and I would seriously hope that people will either phone 999 or look up my number in the phone book and get me this way. It’s not in any way satisfactory,” said Dr Herfurt.

“The whole system has changed,” he continued. “There used to be agreements with BT, but that doesn’t seem to exist any more. NHS Highland, probably to some degree rightfully, say that the practices are independent. Armadale is not an NHS Highland-run practice. I would say that’s only a partial excuse, because the ultimate responsibility for the healthcare of the population in the area rests with NHS Highland, even though Dr Le Marre and I are the contractors. I think BT isn’t really interested any more, and NHS Highland is struggling on so many fronts.”

As we went to press, a BT engineer was confirmed to be on site attempting to repair the line. A BT spokesperson said: “A switch specialist visited the surgery this morning and traced the fault to a line fault in the local exchange. An Openreach engineer is currently on site and expects normal service to be restored shortly. Openreach are sorry for this break in service.” 

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