IT WAS Monday morning and I'd had another weekend of just not feeling great. In fact, I hadn't been feeling great for a few weeks. It's nothing serious - it just feels like a never-ending cold.

Now, I'm fortunate enough not to have been ill too often over the last few years and I thought for a while about whether I needed to make an appointment to see the doctor.

I decided to give them a quick call. It should only have taken a few moments and, hopefully, if I spoke to the doc he would sort out a prescription to be left for me rather than me having to get time off work for an appointment.

Yes, that should be easy enough … or so I thought!

It was 9.30am in the office before I got a minute to myself. I lifted the mobile and punched in the number of my doctor's practice.

I shouldn't be long, I gesture to a colleague who is waiting at my desk.

Engaged. Re-dial. Engaged. Re-dial. Engaged. I re-dialled eight times and finally hung up.

I tried again. Engaged. Re-dial. Engaged. Re-dial. Engaged. Re-dial. I did this 10 or 12 times and then, finally, ring-ring, ring-ring.

At last, I thought. Finally I'm through to someone … but no, it was an answering machine.

"Thank you for calling the ****** Practice.

The automated voice opened with: "If you think that you have a life threatening situation, please hang up and dial 999."

And it continued.

"We offer advice and services to patients registered with the practice.

"If you are not our patient your call will be terminated".

"If you wish to join our practice please download an application form from our website"

My colleague by now had wandered off, fed up with waiting and the voice message continued.

"Please listen to the following options:

"If you are calling to discuss a hospital clinic letter, a hospital appointment or a hospital test result, please press 0.

"If you are calling for a nurse's appointment, please press 2. (What happened to Option 1?)

"If you are calling for the result of a test arranged by the practice, please press 3.

"If you are calling to discuss, or order, your repeat prescription, please press 4."

The automated female continued: "You can order your repeat prescription by visiting our website at www...

" If you are calling to discuss a form or a report awaiting completion, or wish a letter from the practice, please press 0." (Why are we back to 0?)

"If you wish to cancel

an appointment, please press 5.

"If you are calling from a nursing home for a consultation about a patient, please press 6.

"If you wish a telephone consultation or an appointment with the doctor, please press 1." (Finally we've found No.1)

Unfortunately, just as we got to the all important number which I knew would be my salvation my boss shouted out of his room and I don't hear the last option.

"Please note that staff on this option (what bloody option?) will not deal with any other query and choosing it inappropriately may lead to your call being terminated."

MY blood pressure was rising and I was getting rather irate. Maybe before I

hung up I actually would have something life-threatening.

And still the voice went on: "To hear these options again please press star or keep holding to speak to an operator.

I kept holding for an operator. It rang and rang

(I suppose I should be grateful it wasn't engaged).

"Could I speak to a doctor?" I politely asked.

"Are you with this practice?" the woman queried. "Yes. (Thank goodness, I think, otherwise I would have been terminated). I've had a cold for weeks and think I just need a prescription.

"Well you should have chosen option 1," she

tells me.

Before I know it she's put me through to option 1 and the answer machine kicks in again:

"We offer advice and services only available to patients of the practice.

"If you wish to join our practice please download a form from our website.wwww

"We offer a wide range of services including evening appointments, hypno-

therapy and acupuncture.

"If you would like more information on our range of services, please speak to a member of reception team or collect a copy of our practice booklet.

"You are currently number 11 in the queue."

Eleventh in the queue? How long is that going to take?

"Ring-ring. Ring-ring. Ring-ring. It rings seven times and then my friendly answer machine:

"Please do not use this service to order any items that you have on repeat prescription, this service is only available to patients registered with the practice.

"We offer a wide range of services including evening appointments.

"You are currently number 10 in the queue …"

I've now been on my mobile for ages and there is a queue of people at my desk. There is no way I can wait any longer so, reluctantly I hang up.

I MIGHT have more luck nearer closing time. I think so try again at 4.55pm.

But no. The phone continuously rings out and then, eventually, I hear a familiar voice.

"Please listen to the following options … "

I am now in queue position six, so mustn't grumble. At least it's better than this morning's debacle.

Answer machine: "This phone line closes at 1700hrs. Your call will now be terminated."

And there I was,

terminated. After all that. Terminated!!!

I go through the same procedure the next day with no success.

Finally my daughter tells me she is visiting the doctor's practice and will make an appointment for me while she's there.

I might as well attend the surgery, I reckon.

After all, it's got to be easier than trying to get through on the phone. But no, it's not that simple. It's never that simple for me.

"I'm sorry but you can't make an appointment at the practice, you have to phone in," the receptionist tells my daughter.

"But my mum's tried for two days," she explains. "Sorry, those are the rules.

So the following day I go through the same palaver and eventually manage to speak to the doctor who agrees to leave a prescription for me.

I hang up the phone and shake my head. Is it any wonder people end up in

A & E?