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Independents' Day

Prominent MP criticises ‘frustrating and ineffective’ GP appointment systems

A former challenger for Labour leader has publicly criticised GP practices' systems of allocating appointments to patients, calling them ‘frustrating and ineffective’.

In a series of posts, MP Owen Smith - who unsuccessfully challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership in 2016 - highlighted his own difficulties in securing a GP appointment through what he called the 'telephone at 8.30am and try your luck' system.

While this way of managing appointments may be effective for GPs, it does not work for patients, he argued.  

But GPs were quick to point out the issue stems from a lack of Government funding for general practice and 'cuts elsewhere in society', and argued it is up to the Government to fix the problem, not GPs.

Writing on social media last week, Mr Smith said: 'We have to get our GPs to change the systems they use to allocate appointments. It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with mine (they’d all sold out by 8.35am today) and I know that’s a situation experienced by millions in Britain. No wonder A&E fills up.'

In another post he said: 'To all doctors on my timeline, in light of my pointing out how hard it is to get a GP appointment, I agree (a) nine years of cuts are part of the problem, (b) there aren’t enough GPs and (c) demand is spiralling.

'But not all surgeries employ this “telephone at 8.30am and try your luck-style” of appointments system – but lots do in my patch. And though it may manage demand effectively for the GPs, it is both frustrating and ineffective for patients.'

In response, Nick Steele, a GP partner in Stockton-on-Tees, said that there is ‘no magic bullet’ to fix this longstanding issue.

He said: ‘Many GPs use different systems to allocate appointments and in my experience, as with many other people, whatever system we employ gets filled up because ultimately we don’t have an unlimited number of GPs. 

‘It’s classic politicians making capital out of GP appointments when we’re under resourced. Increase in funding tends to go to secondary care first [while] primary care is neglected.’

Earlier this month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock told Pulse some of the extra £4.5bn funding for primary and community care will be used to relieve pressure on GPs, however details on this are still lacking.

Tower Hamlets LMC chair Dr Jackie Applebee agreed it can be frustrating for patients who struggle to get a GP appointment, but argued it is not up to GPs to change this.

She said: ‘It’s not for us to rearrange the way we do it. It’s [up to] the Government to funds us properly [to ensure] we’ve got enough GPs to offer enough appointments to meet demand. 

'In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with the traditional model of general practice. If we change our system, it has to be because of clinical effectiveness and not because of financial pressures.'

'Of course we should be trying to educate patients on certain things they don’t need to come for but when there are cuts elsewhere in society, such as advice centres, then we’ve got people coming with housing issues. People come to us as a first port of call because we’re easily accessible and we’re there,' she added.

A Pulse survey in May found one in six GPs have resorted to stopping routine bookings and limiting appointments to ‘emergency’ patients only, due to increasing pressure.

Readers' comments (29)

  • I understand Mr Owen Smith’s frustration as I was in a practice for 34.5 years until 2 years ago.
    I tried very hard against the odds to triage all the requests for appointments and this worked reasonably well
    Unfortunately the practice was drowning under locum costs and escalating demand from both patients, the CCG and NHS England
    I won’t even bother to mention the extra work and aggravation of the CQC
    Funding has dropped despite fewer GPs and increased costs
    I am sure most GP practices would love to offer a Rolls Royce service but with the government strangling general practice the situation can only be improved by more realistic funding and support both financial and workload for the existing and future GPs

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  • I think this is what frustrates me the most about politicians. They really are too stupid to see its their fault and their responsibility to fix the problem of lack of GP availability. What an idiot

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  • Ineffective because of all the rules creating the toxic climate, lack of funding and staff as well as them stoking up dubious health schemes/checks. In Australia you get 45 min per patient, we only get 10 min and we are expected to give "best care" and yet we are deemed ineffective. Government greed? Sorry, not going to be "more effective" and end up getting Gross Negligence Manslaughter charges equivalent to stabbing someone intentionally.

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  • Alan Almond, my kind a guy, only such harsh words can ever trigger a stimulus, I tell my professional lot what a bunch of fucking idiots they all are, and I am talking GP colleagues here. Yes they are as much to blame. Its not just patients and politicians a lot of our own colleagues are a bunch of pathetic, selfish, faceless A,,,holes and are also to blame for whats gone on for wanting to do nothing about it. Funny they are the ones that do 2 sessions full time in their large practices and then you see their name in the locum list as well or they are arse kissing with their roles in the CCG actually getting paid for doing nothing. Lead this lead that, as my patients jokingly often say, I too say 'why kiss my batty man'!!!

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  • There is a very obvious answer which is in widespread use. Open access just turn up and wait surgeries for acute problems. Watch your patient satisfaction results shoot up, save lots of money spent on paying re eptionists to say no. Know that your patients acute problems can be treated promptly and sleep well at night.
    We used to do this in my former practice but had to stop it on the orders of the NHS area team!

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  • Well said Nick Steele - considered and wise words.

    Capacity exceeded by demand has no quick fix.

    Politicians can help by engaging in constructive debate -knee jerk postings on social media after a poor experience are unhelpful and they can be demoralising to hardworking professionals and staff in our surgeries.

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  • There is a quick fix.

    Charging ten pounds to book an appointment would solve excess demand overnight.

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  • As devil's advocate, is it not our problem that we accept an unlimited Contract? If we accept a contract that should provide timely appointments, then we cannot close appointment systems at 0835 as full for patients [ forget Mr O is a MP, he is speaking as a patient]
    We should accept appointment based Contracts ie say a GP provides so many a day/ so many a year.
    But time after time, this is voted down in BMA ARMs, and we GPs accept this crazy contract, where appointments per patient year has doubled in 15 years and funding has fallen in NI for example from 80 to 60 pounds per patient year.
    Since the BMA accepts this unlimited Contract and we GPs do not wish change, then we can hardly blame patients for increasing consultation rates due to multi morbidity, ageing and shifting secondary care work to primary care.
    Change the Contract or provide what it says.
    By the way, I am a working GP.

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  • the Politicians arent stupid, they have to balance the books. They know that better health care costs money, but they haven't the money.

    So here we are, its us who dont push back....the patients expect a lot because we arent maent to temper their expectations, otherwise NHS England/GMC would be after us. go figure.....

    meanwhile eltlets not complain about our rate of pay less than an OOH plumber.

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