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GP appointment waiting times 'risk to patient safety', warns RCGP

Patients across England face waiting longer than a week for a GP or practice nurse appointment on more than 100 million occasions by 2022, according to new analysis from the RCGP.

The figures, from the GP Patient Survey, reveal that if current trends continue, the number of instances when patients will have to wait a week or more to see a GP or practice nurse will jump from 80 million in 2016/17 to 102 million in 2021/22.

The analysis comes after Pulse has revealed that the average wait for a GP appointment is around 13 days, despite measures introduced by the NHS to alleviate pressures on general practice.

The RCGP points out that the situation across England is patchy, with patients in some areas facing long waiting times even to see a practice nurse.

In 21 CCG areas, covering 5.6 million patients, waiting times for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse are at least a week for more than a quarter of the time, the figures reveal.

Some of the worst areas to secure a GP appointment include Corby (36%), Fareham and Gosport (34%), Swindon (31%) and Central London (Westminster) (31%) where currently more than three in 10 patients wait a week or more for an appointment with their GP or practice nurse.

Even in places where access is better there are still thousands of patients waiting a week or more for an appointment, says the RCGP. In Bradford City, for example, where access to general practice is best, one in 10 patients (9%) still has to wait a week or more.

The RCGP warns that if the situation does not improve there is a genuine risk to patient safety. It is now calling on the Government once again to deliver on the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View as a matter of urgency, to ensure that patients get the timely, quality care they need, when they need it.

The GP Forward View, launched in April last year, made more than 100 pledges, including an extra £2.4bn each year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more members of the wider practice tea.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Our patients should be able to see a GP when they need to, so we’re highly concerned that patients are finding it so difficult to make an appointment, and that in so many cases they have had to wait more than a week to see a GP. This is a clear risk to patient safety – and if nothing is done soon, it is clear that this is set to get worse.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard added: ‘If these patients can’t secure an appointment with their GP when they need one, it’s probable that they will return at some point to another area of the NHS, when their condition may have worsened, and where their care will cost the health service significantly more – something which could’ve been avoided if they’d been able their GP in the first instance. 

‘GPs and our teams are now making more patient consultations than ever before – over 370 million each year – and with workload continuing to escalate, and with continuing resource and workforce pressures, the worrying outcome is that we will be unable to see all our patients who need to be seen.’

She said that the Forward View needs to be delivered in full, and as a matter of urgency, if it is to ‘have a chance at protecting our profession, the wider NHS, and ensuring our patients receive the care they need and deserve’.

The RCGP points out that workload in general practice has risen 16% over the past seven years, according to recent research, while investment in the service has fallen over the same period, and the GP workforce has gone down since last year.

Readers' comments (14)

  • At what point do we stop trying to increase supply, which frankly, is never going to be enough and start addressing demand . this is where the warnings need to be . massive media campaign to realign patients behaviour with frank warning if this does not occur the only recourse will be to charge for gp appointments.That,I believe would fix the problem very rapidly. similar rapid improvement would be seen with the instant scrapping of the 111 service.

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  • Healthy Cynic

    How long do you wait to see a dentist, or optician, or bank manager? We've had it once the academics think that routine medical care should be part of the instant gratification culture that we have fostered in society. The bigger scandal is all those who visit their GP needlessly, exhausting resources for those who do need advice or care.

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  • Tom Caldwell

    Access, Access, Access... The false god to enforce change. Outcome measures of patient satisfaction and access are all that matter.

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  • Come on RCGP, clobber the stupid GPs for not giving enough appointments, how could you miss such a luscious opportunity! These greedy GPs should be working 24/7 as an example of modern day slavery and what are they doing ,,,,,lazing around on beaches and drinking Martini on the rocks.

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