Generally speaking, the ‘take-a-number’ system is designed to bring order to waiting lines and ensure customers don’t have to stand for long periods. While this is behind the new queue management system at Nicosia general hospital’s pharmacy, it has got off to a shaky start.
One man told the Sunday Mail he has been visiting the pharmacy every two months to get medicine since 2013, but last week he had the worst experience ever – by far.
“It usually took 10 minutes, 15 to 20 minutes at worst with everybody standing in a queue. There are four or five pharmacists, one is for the staff and in-patients, the others are for the rest of us,” 63-year-old Christos Pavlou said.
“When I came in this time, there was only one person standing but a lot of people sitting, so I thought ‘great, this will be quick’.”
However, it was far from a short wait. When his turn came, the pharmacist asked him for a number, and only then did it dawn on him that there was a new system where you had to get a numbered ticket and wait your turn.
“You couldn’t know, there was nobody to tell you, no signs…”
Yes, there were a lot of people sitting, but this was usual for the time of the day, as it was the same area where people wait for blood tests early in the morning so the change was not obvious, Pavlou explained.
He later observed there were a lot of others who hadn’t known about the new system and had to be told by someone about it – if someone bothered, as there was no supervisor around.
When he finally took his ticket, he saw he had to wait for 55 people to be served before it was his turn. The display was at number 80 and his number was 135.
This gave him plenty of time to observe. He saw some customers taking more than one ticket, one as many as ten – obviously, he believes, to share them with others who then did not have to wait but just appeared later on when it suited them. Also, instead of sitting and waiting, most of them took a number and left.
At the same time, others were coming whose number had flashed up long before. They then said they had been to see their doctor or were not feeling well, among other explanations – or excuses.
It took two hours for Pavlou to get his medication.
Another patient, Kyriaki Georgiadou, regularly comes in with her teenage son to get drugs. If anything, her experience was worse.
“It is hugely different from the past,” was her first comment.
“The previous time I had to wait for a long time, so this time I got my ticket first and then went with my son to the doctor for his appointment, and when we got back there were still 50 numbers before me.”
The numbers were also ticking through very slowly. In short, after his appointment with the doctor, the son walked across the road to the mall, had a meal at a fast food restaurant, walked back bringing his mother food, and she sat down and ate it, all before it was finally her turn. Total waiting time? Three hours.
“Yes, it was more chaotic before, with people trying to jump the queue, but I would rather stand for 20 minutes than have three hours of calm,” she commented.
Staff of the hospital don’t see it this way. The person in charge of the pharmacists who was clearly upset to be asked about the situation said: “before they were standing, now they are sitting, and they are still complaining”.
Asked what was causing the long queues, she commented: “there are always ‘Mafiosos’ and those who cheat.”
But another issue is the increasing number of customers ahead of the introduction of Gesy in June. People are stockpiling medication because the costs of prescriptions will rise. At present medication costs 50 cents for each drug, regardless of quantity prescribed. After June that will rise to one euro for each item.
Even so, the new system should be working she said.
“They are supposed to wait and not go away and come back,” she added.
The question remains: are these just teething problems for a new system, or should people get used to it and bring food, drinks and whatever else it takes to make a long wait slightly more comfortable?