Thursday, 21 October 2021

Villagers' fury at phone and internet cut off for days

RESIDENTS and businesses in Sonning Common were unable to use their phones or internet for almost two weeks.

RESIDENTS and businesses in Sonning Common were unable to use their phones or internet for almost two weeks.

Shops, offices, homes and health facilities in Wood Lane were cut off for up to 12 days due to a faulty BT cable.

The health centre could not receive calls to its landline from patients after the problems began on March 14.

Doctors had to call patients from their personal mobiles and reception staff were helped by BT to divert calls to a mobile phone.

Dr Ralph Drury, a GP at the centre, said: “Stress levels among staff and doctors increased because we’re reliant on decent telephone reception.

“This has caused a great amount of inconvenience and potentially a lot of stress for patients with difficulties. For example, if someone has been in pain and thinks it’s a good idea to get advice from a doctor but hasn’t been able to get through, they might have given up even though there could be something seriously wrong with them.”

Dr Drury said the centre had first experienced problems in January when the reception was intermittent for four days.

He said: “We’ve tried our utmost to provide a really comprehensive service and used personal mobile phones as much as possible but they can’t replace the landline for routine and emergency calls. Inevitably there are problems with people getting through, especially when the calls are only diverted to one phone.

It made us busier because we haven’t been able to say confidently ‘just call us back if you’re worried’ because people can’t. I’m so used to just picking up the phone and calling the hospital but I haven’t been able to. We have a fax machine and it hasn’t been able to function without a landline and email has been on and off.

“We’ve had to call BT lots of times and they say they’re on to it but it seems to be taking a long time considering we’re top of the ladder for urgent action.

“The staff have responded brilliantly and everyone is trying extra hard, especially reception, in working with what we’ve got.”

Wood Lane Dentistry also lost use of its landline and internet for 12 days.

Principal dentist Vik Chugani said: “Our patients have had problems phoning us and we haven’t been able to take any card payments. We’ve had to take names down and contact them when it’s running again.

“Nothing is going into our account, which is a problem. We’ve managed to redirect calls to all our mobile numbers on most days but on Tuesday last week BT wasn’t able to do that and it was a major problem. We’ve had no internet, which means a lot of our management stuff has had to be put on hold. We’ve had meetings cancelled and been unable to contact the primary care trust.”

Roy Wing, who co-owns Pet Country Supplies, said the problems began on New Year’s Eve when phone reception was intermittent for a week.

The shop was then cut off for about eight days earlier this month before experiencing more problems on Wednesday and Thursday last week.

Mr Wing said: “It gets frustrating. We can’t take any money because the card machine isn’t working.

“We also had broadband issues and when they sent someone to sort that out it got worse. We do a lot of things on the internet, such as paying suppliers and getting emails from customers, and we do 60 per cent of our ordering online.

“The biggest problem is it upsets our cash flow. When it was off for eight days we didn’t have money in the bank. We had to extend our terms with one supplier and go to Henley to pay cash into their account to keep our supplies rolling.”

Mick Wells, who owns hardware store Heath & Watkins, said he had told BT he doesn’t want a landline any more after being cut off for a week and has bought two mobile phones.

He said: “When you ring them up they say, ‘it might be your equipment. If it is, we will have to come out and will charge £200’, so I told them I wouldn’t get involved in that.”

Barbara and Peter Small, who live in Wood Lane, were also cut off for 12 days.

“It has been absolutely terrible,” said Mrs Small. “We feel so cut off not having a phone or broadband so I can’t use email.”

Neighbour David Whitehead, 67, an IT company director, said: “We’re a Sky customer but the problem is with BT Openreach. Losing the broadband is frustrating because you realise how much you use it when it has gone. I need it for business.”

A BT spokesman said an underground cable had started to develop faults.

He said: “We have had to clear blockages from the underground cable route and replace around 50m of faulty cabling. Engineers were on site on Thursday last week to get the new cable in and were back the next day to connect the new cable.”

He said all but one fault had been resolved by Friday, adding: “We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

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