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Tell me something useful... preferably in the next 9.2 minutes


Somehow, I don’t think this will come as news to you. But the Academy of Medical Sciences has just concluded that the 9.2 minute average GP appointment length ‘does not give sufficient time for conversations about treatment options’.

No. It doesn’t. Once we have ploughed through the various agendas which these days comprise the average consultation and which really don’t need cataloguing here, time pressure means that any treatment-option ‘conversation’ involves me waving a prescription with one hand while buzzing for the next patient with the other.

I am actually getting very bored of well-meaning bodies like the AMS or the RCGP stating that we need longer consultations, not least because it merely invites less well-meaning bodies, like the Government, to reply that we can choose whatever appointment time we like. True, but only at the expense of: a) Prolonging waiting times from the current ‘unacceptable’ to something approaching ‘risible’ or b) Our sanity as we’re forced to work wall-to-wall surgeries.

While everyone else pontificates or rationalises, we’re left to cope. And that means either we take shortcuts, risks and the paths of least resistance, or that we resort to aggressive posters warning patients that they’re restricted to ONE PROBLEM PER CONSULTATION (which, by the way, is unrealistic, inappropriate, dangerous and counterproductive but nonetheless so attractive that we may well take this idea and run with an updated version in which patients' presentations are strictly limited to 140 characters, after which the trap-door opens).

This will all be solved by forming bigger practices, improved recruitment, working smarter, yada yada yada. Except that no it won’t, certainly not for many years. The laws of physics remain and you cannot time-warp twenty minutes for a ten minute slot, and that’s all I can offer. The only solution is to take something away: on-the-day urgents, the open ended appointment commitment, residential homes, diabetes care, all of the above, something, anything. Give us space and we will give them time.

Anyone listening? Good. Because I expect an answer within exactly 9.2 minutes.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield




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Readers' comments (1)

  • Your mention of the 'trap door' opening reminds me of your most excellent screen-saver from long, long ago where one of the patient disposal methods was a trap-door! The others I can remember were being abducted by aliens and being struck by lightning (or it may have been a death-ray from the alien spaceship).
    It helped retain my sanity for a few years until the Health Board prevented the use of screensavers. These days some pathetic do-gooders would probably regard your screensaver as in bad taste!
    As regards the article - agreed, though extending slots to 15 minutes or perhaps even just 12.5 minutes would be good for us and the patients apart from increasing the time to get an appointment. So what? Folk will moan no matter how long or short a time they have to wait. If the ultimate experience were improved then on balance they just might be happier - but probably not!

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