Waiting times to speak to a doctor out of surgery hours can mount up to almost half an hour, according to spot checks by the consumers association Consumentenbond.
The huisartsenpost service was set up for people to call if their medical problem cannot wait until the next day. Yet although 75% of calls are supposed to be answered within two minutes, and the rest within 10, many take more than 20 minutes to be dealt with, the Consumentenbond said.
The association made 20 calls each to 40 different services to check out waiting times.
The fastest services were in Groningen, Zuidwest Drenthe and Noordwest Overijssel, where all the calls were answered on time. Amsterdam had the longest waiting times; just three of the 20 calls were answered within two minutes.
The Consumentenbond tested the ‘normal’ service numbers, not the number for emergency calls, which receive priority treatment.
An analysis by doctors themselves found that they are having to deal with an increasing number of calls from worried patients in the evening and at weekends.
Complaints made by callers are also becoming more serious, the research showed. The ageing population and the fact vulnerable people are more likely to live at home is having an impact on the seriousness of the calls, the doctors say.