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"Outpatient appointment booking by phone"

About: Raigmore Hospital / Ear, Nose & Throat

(as the patient),

I was referred by my GP to my local ENT clinic at Raigmore Hopital in Inverness. I was told I would be sent out a letter to arrange my appointment within 12 weeks of the date on the letter from my GP confirming my referral had been sent off. This letter eventually arrived in the post breaching the 12 week guarantee time from my GP letter.

The first time I tried to phone the freephone number from home was at 17.05 where a recorded message told me I could only phone betwen 09. 00 and 17.00. These times do not provide an adequate service as not everyone can be at home to phone between these hours if you work Monday-Friday and normal daytime working hours and not all employers will allow you to make personal calls during working time.

Most office hours or GP practices are staffed between 08. 00-08.30 until 17.30-18.00 with staff having staggered hours to cover these times. I then tried to phone the following day from my mobile only to be told that I would be charged 14 pence per minute and that there was a current waiting time of 15 minutes to get through to speak to someone. This is totally unacceptable in this day and age as I do not have time to sit on hold for this length of time while I am at work.

The Outpatient Booking Service needs to be reviewed to extend their opening hours and also provide some form of answering service where patients can leave a message even if it is just to say they cannot attend an appointment at short notice!

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Response from Maimie Thompson, Head of Public Relations and Engagement, Chief Executive's Office, NHS Highland

picture of Maimie Thompson

Dear Frustrated Filly

Thank you so much for your feed-back. What a frustrating experience for you and so the first thing I want to do is apologise.I also need to check if you managed to get an appointment? I hope so but if not please do not hesitate to get in touch so this can be arranged.

I have passed your feed-back onto the managers of the service. You will be pleased to know that we are looking at a number of aspects relating to the booking service as we are aware that some parts of the service at some times are not working as well as they should. In the past patients were sent a letter with their appointment day and time without any discussion and this caused a different set of problems. So the idea behind patients phoning is to allow them to select a day and time that suits best. The issue, as you rightly point out, is opening hours and being able to get through quickly. We are working on this and your feed-back will be extremly helpful. Many thanks again and I am sorry for any inconvenience.


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Response from Maimie Thompson, Head of Public Relations and Engagement, Chief Executive's Office, NHS Highland We are preparing to make a change

picture of Maimie Thompson

Dear Frustrated Filly

I have shared your feed-back with managers and followed that up with a number of conversations. I thought it would be useful to share some of the things that will be happening.

The service is in the process of reviewing a number of aspects of the booking service and with an initial focus on ENT. There is a recognition of a need to have opening hours which make it easier for people like yourself to make appointments.

We will also be setting up an email service and have the facility to leave messages. If you have any other ideas or issues you want to feed-back please do. It will help us improve and I hope this goes some way to show how sorry we are about the poor service you received but that are committed to getting better.

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Update posted by Frustrated Filly (the patient)

Thank you for your replies. I did eventually manage to get through after having to wait on hold for around 10 minutes despite being told my call was first in the queue to be answered.

I'm glad you have taken on board my comments and are planning to implement some changes for the future. Perhaps you could look at the possibility adding an additional landline number which is not an 0800 number so that callers from mobile phones are not charges for their calls? I'm guessing a lot of people may be calling from mobiles during office hours.

Are you also going to look at reducing waiting times for ENT appointments? I was told that new outpatient appointments are supposed to be seen within 12 weeks of referral but the first available appointment date which I have been allocated has now taken me to around 18 weeks. It was my understanding, from reading on the Scottish Government website, that if a new outpatient appointment breaches the 12 week guarantee time then patients be provided with an explanation as to why this has happened and they must be given details of the advice and support service available and details of how to give feedback, comments or raise concerns. None of these were given to me from the call handler when I asked why there was a delay. All I was told was that the clinics were busy. I asked if they held a cancellation list and I was also told that any available slots were used for urgent patients. Could the clinic templates not be set out with urgent slots already built in and then if cancellations did become available then patients who were waiting the longest time could be brought forward into any available slots?

Response from Maimie Thompson, Head of Public Relations and Engagement, Chief Executive's Office, NHS Highland

picture of Maimie Thompson


Really helpful to get this additional information - thank you. I have passed on your suggestions about additional landlines.

I am afraid to say we have had some problems with people waiting longer than 12 weeks in ENT due to a number of exceptional staffing issues. These are in the process of being resolved but appreciate that is of little comfort for you.

The 12 week guarantee that you refer to actually only applies to in-patients and so there is not a requirement to provide you with details of delays. While that may seem bizarre it relates to the huge administrative burden that it would cause. Having said that I agree the call handlers could have provided you with more information and I will discuss that with colleagues.

The Templates do have urgent slots and there is a short notice cancellation list. The problem is not having enough capacity to meet the demand exacerbated by us not providing you will a full explanation. I doubt this helps you much but its an honest appraisal of the situation and one we are working hard to get back on track.

Its great to get your ideas though and all I would say is keep them coming.

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Updates, changes and questions related to this story