Blood testing (Phlebotomy) services in Waltham Forest - frequently asked questions and answers

NHS Waltham Forest Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) recently commissioned a new blood testing service from NELFT (North East London NHS Foundation Trust), which took over as service provider on 1 November 2017.

Why has the blood testing service changed?

The service has historically been the subject of feedback from both patients and local GPs, indicating that it was not delivering a good experience for patients due to long wait times and crowded clinics. In response to this, the CCG worked with Healthwatch Waltham Forest to conduct a review of the community blood testing clinics, and as a result produced a revised specification for the service, which was launched on 1 November 2017.

The new service will see longer opening hours, more appointments per day across the borough, and the introduction of an online appointment booking system to reduce queuing and overcrowding on sites during peak periods.

In order to deliver an improved service with more appointments available overall, the community-based service is being delivered from fewer sites.

Which sites is the service being delivered from?

The sites and opening times are:

  • Silverthorn Medical Centre, 2 Friars Close, Chingford E4 6UN. Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8:15am – 12:30pm
  • St James Medical Practice, 47 St James St, Walthamstow E17 7NH. Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8:15am – 12:30pm & 1:15pm - 5:30pm
  • Langthorne Health Centre, 13 Langthorne Rd, Leytonstone E11 4HX. Opening times: Monday to Friday, 8:15am – 12:30pm

Why are there now fewer blood testing clinics?

The decision to withdraw some clinics and move the service to alternative sites was made in collaboration between Waltham Forest CCG and the new phlebotomy provider, NELFT, in order to facilitate a more resilient service, with more phlebotomists concentrated in a fewer number of clinics. This allows them to see more patients more quickly, and to respond more effectively to issues such as unplanned staff absence.

Consolidating the service to three sites, along with the other changes made recently, has enabled 350 additional slots per week and an increase in home visit appointments from nine to 30 which helps our most vulnerable patients.

To ensure a robust phlebotomy service is in place across the borough, the clinics which operated at the following locations ceased to run as of 31 October 2017:

  • Chingford Health Centre
  • Comely Bank Health Centre
  • Oliver Road Polyclinic

The changes ensure that the service remains in community locations around the borough, but with greater resilience and the ability to see more patients more quickly. Although this may cause inconvenience to some patients who have to travel further, this is outweighed by the significant benefit to the wider population of having increased access to blood tests with shorter waiting times.

Is the change from six to three locations a reduction in services?

The new service has increased the opening hours at St James Health Centre, therefore providing afternoon appointments which were not previously available. The service now has the capacity to see approximately 350 more patients per week than previously, and the domiciliary service has increased capacity from nine to 30 home visits per week. The three clinics are also open five days per week, whereas previously not all clinics were open throughout the week.

How was the new service developed?

The new service specification was developed following feedback from patients and GP practices, and engagement with patient groups including Healthwatch Waltham Forest. Feedback throughout this process indicated that patients wanted the opportunity to pre-book phlebotomy appointments due to the long waiting times experienced at the walk-in clinics in recent years.

Will patients need to wait to be seen?

As part of the new service delivered by NELFT, the borough’s main community services provider, patients are now able to pre-book blood test appointments online for a date and time that suits them. This means that there is no longer any need to arrive at the clinic and wait without a guaranteed time to be seen. Patients, or a relative or carer acting on their behalf, can book online by following the links on: www.nelft.nhs.uk/wf-blood-test. One person can register to book appointments for up to 10 people.

The new booking system also still permits walk-in appointments, whereby a patient who arrives at the clinic will be allocated a time on arrival via the check-in kiosk in the waiting area and can either wait at the clinic or choose an alternative date/time if the slot offered does not suit their needs. 

What about those who are unable to visit the centre due to medical reasons?

A home visit service is also available for patients who are housebound, and patients can access this via a referral from their GP.

I don’t use the internet. How can I book an appointment?

A relative or carer can register on the online system to book on your behalf if needed. 

We have also agreed with the local authority that patients can seek help with booking appointments at local libraries if they do not have a relative or carer to book for them. 

Walk-in appointments are still available for patients who have no ability to pre-book either by making the booking themselves or via a relative or carer. On arrival, a check-in kiosk system allocates a timed slot and gives the patient an approximate waiting time. Instructions are shown at the kiosk explaining how to either book a walk-in appointment or check-in for a pre-booked appointment.

How has the service improved?  

The new booking system has enabled significant improvement on the previous ticketing system, which had no pre-booking and was unable to give the patient any indication of how long they would be waiting for their blood test.

At least half of all appointments are currently held for walk-in patients. This is being kept under review to ensure that an appropriate number of walk-in appointments are available to meet demand.

There are ongoing reviews to ensure the service is as efficient and effective as possible to meet the need of service users.

Can I book a blood test for my child?

The service is available to all patients aged 10 and over who are registered with a Waltham Forest GP. Should you need to take a child under the age of 10 for a blood test, these are available on a walk-in basis at Whipps Cross Hospital outpatients department, from 9.30am-3.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

How long will it take to book an appointment online?

Registering should take no more than three to four minutes, including the time required to receive an email to validate an email address. Registration is only required once and the booking process is quicker than this, particularly for repeat patients who have an option when they log in to book the same clinic again. One person can also book on behalf of up to 10 people, which means a family only needs one account to use the system.

What do I do if I am having problems booking online?

In the first instance, please ensure that you have completed the registration process by completing your details and following the link in the confirmation email. If you have not received a confirmation email, please ensure you check your junk or spam folders. If you are unable to complete registration, or have registered and are having difficulties booking an appointment, please email support@swiftqueue.com for assistance.

What should I do if I need to change or cancel my appointment?

To make changes to an appointment, or cancel an appointment, that you have booked online, please log into your online account using the email address and password that you used to register for the system. When you log in, the home page will display any appointments that you have booked and allow you to cancel, change or re-book as required.  Please do not contact the blood testing centre directly about making changes to your appointment time.

What about patients who don’t speak English?

For patients who don’t speak English as their first language, a relative or carer may register to book appointments on their behalf. The check-in kiosk also offers a number of different languages, which can be accessed either when checking in for a pre-booked appointment or when requesting a walk-in appointment.

What should I do if I need help when I arrive at the clinic?

If you need help using the kiosk to check in or book an appointment, please see one of the phlebotomists on site for assistance. Please do not ask the GP practice receptionists to assist, as the GP services are separate from the blood testing clinics.

How can patients submit feedback about the service?

If you have any feedback, enquiries or complaints on the service, please share these with NELFT. Contact details are available on the NELFT website: www.nelft.nhs.uk/your-feedback