ONE in nine people in the Black Country could not contact their GP when they tried to book an appointment or speak to a receptionist, according to a new poll of patients across England.

The NHS England and Office for National Statistics survey showed 11.5 per cent of people registered to a GP practice with the NHS Black Country Integrated Care Board were unable to contact their doctor, receptionist or another clinician at their registered practice the last time they tried.

A further 7.3 per cent were able to contact their GP but it took at least two days, according to the survey which was based on responses from a sample of nearly 90,000 adults aged 16 and over in England.

Nationally, 11.9 per cent of patients had to wait at least two days to contact their practice.

Meanwhile, patients who successfully contacted their GP practice were asked what their next step was. Some 8.6 per cent were told to call back another day, while 16.1 per cent were given an appointment at least two weeks after they made contact.

Sarb Basi, director of primary care for the NHS Black Country ICB, said: “Across the Black Country, our GP practices are working hard to offer more appointments than ever, with over 137,000 more appointments offered in February compared to before the pandemic.

“Despite this, demand on services continues to be higher than we’ve ever seen, and we acknowledge that there are some patients who are struggling to get through to their practice which we understand can be frustrating.

“We are determined to improve patients' experience and access to primary care which is why we have extended access to appointments for evenings and weekends, we are working to increase the range of healthcare professionals working in primary care to support GPs, we are upgrading GP telephone systems and are making better use of digital alternatives where appropriate."

Dr Margaret Ikpoh, vice chairperson of the Royal College of GPs, said GPs provided "positive experiences for most patients" - despite underfunding and poor workforce planning.

She added: "We know how much our patients value the care that GPs and our teams offer, and we share their frustrations when they struggle to access it when they need to."

The survey showed 63.7 per cent of patients across the country said their experience of their GP practice was "good or very good".

But in the Black Country this was 56.1 per cent, with 26.2 per cent saying their experience was poor or very poor.

Meanwhile, 16.3 per cent of Black Country patients said they were waiting for at least 12 months for a hospital appointment or test, or to start NHS medical treatment.

An NHS England spokesperson said: "The official published statistics on NHS waiting lists actually show 6.3 million patients were on NHS waiting lists as of the end of January and only 4.2 per cent of waits were over a year.

"Work is ongoing to reduce the longest waits for patients but despite pressures and industrial action, hardworking NHS staff ensured the Covid backlog has fallen for four months in a row and 18-month waits are down almost 90 per cent on their peak.

"In terms of GP care, almost two-thirds of people are happy with their experience, and millions more are being given appointments compared to before the pandemic."