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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)

  • Vinci Ho

    Yes . Politically correct - risks to our patients
    What about the risks to our GP colleagues, Helen?
    If GPs are people's doctors , you can only be standing on the side of patients by truly defending all of us.....

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  • Invest in General practice.

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  • GPs run urgent care same day appointments. The week or two week wait is for non urgent problems and reviews.... sounds like the prof don't know much and is raising something up that is not a problem

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  • Is the GP forward view going to materialize, doubt it.What will the RCGP do then when the white elephant vanishes in a puff of blue smoke along with and increasing amount of middle aged primary care(and RCGP subs).

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  • "warns RCGP" - ok warning listened, next please, what's the point of these warnings, to keep in limelight?

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  • Warning is actually very helpful because it draws attention to a clear link between GP shortage and health outcomes. This is a much better line to argue than moaning about how dreadful everything is from our perspective. I can't remember the college being so blunt before.

    We need more of - " Lack of GPs can seriously damage your health"

    So well done.

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  • @2.23- sure you are last one who are still paying your subscription to RCGP year by year.
    It draws attention but then what- there is no money. Daily well is full of NHS mismanagement news, how many warnings we need?
    College being so blunt- any grass root GP knows about college politics, even pulse has got many of these warnings in old editions, a simple google can reveal as well.
    We need action and not warning, so NOT well done!

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  • Sinply more GPs wont fix this problem.
    More GP's in a practice means pay cut for partners who are already earning less than they did 10 years ago despite significantly more workload. I have no routine appts for 5 weeks, but we see all urgent on same day and visit 20 frail patients a day

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  • "an appointment" - what exactly is this blanket term Helen? acute, review at the time they WANT and only with the GP they WANT? Just to get in the door? For a procedure? To get a call (that is an appointment in my mind and we offer on the day calls to anyone who wants them and patients still complain they can't speak to who they want when they want now!)
    This simply makes more fuel for the fire and does nothing to support your colleagues. Thank you.
    Remind me why anyone would waste their money on the RCGP?

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  • Why don' t the RCGP come clean - they want superpractices of employed GPs with walk-in access on demand.

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