FRUSTRATED staff at a doctors’ surgery with 14,000 registered patients are worried that lives are being put at risk by recurring phoneline problems.

The Denmark Street Surgery in Darlington has been plagued with telephone connection problems since Christmas, prompting practice manager Sally Hutchinson to complain to BT’s chief executive.

On four separate occasions in recent weeks the surgery has been unable to take incoming calls and BT engineers have taken on average at least a full working day to resolve each problem.

Meanwhile, the surgery is forced to divert all incoming calls to just one number instead of its usual ten phonelines and extra pressure is put on staff trying to clear patient backlogs once the phones are re-connected.

Mrs Hutchinson slammed BT’s service as “completely unacceptable” and expressed her frustration to the BT Group chief executive Gavin Patterson.

She said: “My main concern is that some patients are not able to contact us and request for medical care and attention.

“In the current climate of A & E services being overstretched, ambulances overstretched and hospitals full, this is only making the situation worse.

“How do we know if an elderly lady who is home on her own needs help or a visit by her doctor? We don’t.

“On the other side, what if we need an urgent ambulance to the surgery for a patient? We have no phones.”

Surgery staff have been given no explanations for the disconnections, except on one occasion in early January which they were told was due to a fault in the main exchange.

Mrs Hutchinson, who is also the Clinical Commissioning Group practice manager for Darlington, said: “We are quite angry with BT, and the main point I would like to get across to patients is that it is out of our control, we are sorry about that and we are trying to do everything we can.”

A BT spokeswoman told The Northern Echo: “We are very sorry to staff and patients at Denmark Street Surgery for any inconvenience caused by recent faults to telephone service.

“We are currently looking into this to ensure that any further issues are prevented.”

When the phones are disconnected, Denmark Street Surgery staff can be contacted via its website and via fax on 01325 366281.