Concerns have been raised about access to GPs during the pandemic, with the process of getting an appointment labelled "like Russian roulette".

A report from HealthwatchReading on GPphone access for Reading residents in Spring 2021 found people had deep frustration about the difficulties of getting hold of their GP surgery.

Getting to speak to a receptionist over the phone to book an appointment was like ‘Russian roulette’, the Healthwatch Reading survey found.

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There were 339 respondents to the survey and more than half of them said the experience of calling GPs was difficult.

People living in central or south Reading raised the most concerns, with 51 per cent finding calling their GP difficult, compared to 22 per cent of those living in west Reading and 8 per cent in north Reading.

Mandeep Kaur, chief executive at Healthwatch Reading, said: “This inequity of experience has been a long-standing issue in Reading. I feel it tells two things.

“Firstly, there may be some good practice in north and west reading that needs to be shared and learned from.

“And secondly, we should be very concerned that the populations that suffer the most from health inequalities are amongst those living in south and central areas and they are the ones reporting poor experiences.”

For one woman in her late 80s, it took one month to get through on the phone to get help for debilitating symptoms including a marked loss of weight for a month.

Another woman said it took her more than four-and-a-half hours of waiting in call queues before managing to book appointments for blood and smear tests.

One woman said she had to beg to get an appointment for her five-week-old baby, who had a cold and a bad rash.

She said because the doctor refused to see him, in spite of repeated calls for over two months, the rash got infected and turned into eczema and the skin started bleeding.

There were also many positive comments about the services provided by GPs.

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Sarah Wise, primary care commissioning manager at the Berkshire West CCG, said: “Some of the personal stories that have come out of this have been eye opening and really valuable to the CCG.”

She said, as a result of the report, the CCG has identified eight GP practices to work with on an action plan to make improvements.

Councillor Graeme Hoskin, lead member for Health at Reading Borough Council (RBC), said the system seems to favour those who are switched on to dealing with bureaucracy or who have time on their hands.

He added: “I worry that people that have work commitments that are very rigid and are perhaps not as sharp elbowed.

“We don’t want a system that ends up pushing people into A+E because that would be impossible to cope with.”