People in Somerset looking for health advice and support want to see better access to their GP to get the information they need, rather than looking online for help.

Research carried out by the county’s independent health and social care champion Healthwatch Somerset reveals 46% of people surveyed encountered difficulties in accessing information, advice and support when they needed it.

Healthwatch Somerset carried out a survey and ran focus groups to find out if local health and care services are doing enough to help people get timely, effective advice and support when their health and wellbeing is at risk.

Over 230 people responded and the findings are now published in the new report: Accessing Information about Health and Support in Somerset.  This will be presented to Somerset Health and Wellbeing Board to ensure the public voice is considered when planning future health and care services.

Key findings in the report reveal:

  • Many people said that access to GP appointments and referrals was the main barrier to getting help and support.  Many of the respondents reported waiting between two and three weeks to see someone about their health condition.
  • One person spoke about their frustrations to Healthwatch Somerset.  They said: “It’s difficult trying to get through on the phone at the local surgery, then obtaining an appointment that can be two or three weeks away.  I could be dead by then!”
  • There was also concern about access to information from GPs during weekends and public holidays, and in urgent situations.
  • People reported it was difficult to tell if information presented online was trustworthy.  Many experienced difficulties in recognising the legitimacy of information, especially when it was inconsistent.  Out of date information on websites, especially about locations and times of groups or clinics was frustrating.
  • People also spoke about how it was more difficult to access information and advice after they, or someone they cared for, had been diagnosed with a long-term condition.  People often felt that they had been left to find the information themselves, with little to no signposting to support.  One person said: “I search mostly online for extra advice.  From diagnosis I was pretty much left alone, apart from one review.”

Lucie Woodruff, from Healthwatch Somerset, said: “Over the next couple of years Somerset County Council and Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group are developing a neighbourhood approach that will bring health, care and community partners together to deliver services to local people in a more joined up way.

“Healthwatch Somerset wanted to understand where people currently access information, advice and support to manage their health, and how this could be improved.  We hope these views, presented in our latest report, will help to shape future services.”

Healthwatch Somerset has set out a list of recommendations for commissioners and health care providers based on the findings from the report.  These include:

  • Provide training for patient facing staff in GP surgeries, so they can give the right information and signposting to alleviate the pressure on doctors.
  • A centralised, up-to-date and promoted website so people can access health and support information in one place.
  • Better support for those with long-term conditions.
  • Identify carers, so that the appropriate help and support can be offered to them.

Pip Cannons, from Somerset County Council, said: “Somerset County Council and Somerset Clinical Commissioning Group are developing a new neighbourhood approach to health and care that aims to strengthen individual and community resilience and wellbeing and help people stay as independent as possible for as long as possible in their own home and community.

“I would like to thank Healthwatch Somerset and everyone who took part in the survey.  The information and recommendations gathered have provided us with valuable insights that will be used to help make changes across the whole health and care system to ensure that access to information and support is in the right time, place and proportionate to people’s needs.”

Read the full report and appendices: