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GP appointment waiting times to be published under new access drive

GP practices are to have their waiting times for appointments published under a drive to improve access, says NHS chief executive Simon Stevens.

Speaking in front of the cross-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee today, Mr Stevens said that NHS England would begin collecting waiting times data this year.

Mr Stevens added that he wanted to see access to GP appointments improving as a result of the increased investment into the general practice workforce.

At the hearing, that followed a critical report from the National Audit Office that said the Government had a ‘crude’ understanding of current demand and capacity.

 But Mr Stevens said that NHS England was significantly increasing its measurements of general practice, including a scheme for practices to report their workload, and an audit of waiting times.

He told MPs: ‘We want to have more information on the availability of GP appointments for routine conditions, and we are going to start collecting those data through the course of this year.

‘We’re going to publish those so people can see what waiting times are, I think that will be good for patients, it will be good for GPs, actually.’

He added that, while NHS England recognises general practice is under significant strain, it was also receiving investment – particularly in new workforce - and ‘therefore it’s reasonable to expect, on the back of that, improved access’.

Stevens added that this year they would also introduce a ‘GP practice workload tool to measure what is happening inside primary care’.

He told the PAC that the lack of this data on workload pressures had contributed to historic underfunding and was one of the reasons ‘GP services have lost out compared to other parts of the NHS’.

Pulse has asked NHS England to clarify whether waiting times data would be published at individual practice level.

GP leaders said no details had been worked out and it would not be straightforward. GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: 'Practices operate in varying ways and there are patients who want to wait to see a GP of their choice, how do you qualify that and compare patients who will happily see any GP for a particular episode of care?'

The National Audit Office report highlighted some areas of the country where practices were closing once a week or more during core hours, despite in some cases also receiving funding from the extended access DES.

The panel today clarified that 75% of these practices were located in roughly 50 of the 211 CCGs in England.

NHS England’s director of commissioning development Rosamond Roughton said these patterns were ‘concentrated in very particular parts of the country’ without obvious reason.

She added there was some confusion in practices' response - as follow up queries with some practices revealed many still provide appointment booking, or prescriptions collection services, but that publishing the data had impacted their behaviour.

Ms Roughton said: ‘In many parts of the country [practices] saw the data and were taken aback: "Why are some practices closing for half day when we’re not?”

‘In some ways we know peer pressure is one of the ways we can see change happen.'

She said NHS England would not be afraid to also use contractual penalties to change these behaviours, but intended to take a ‘supportive’ approach initially as many of these practices have acute workforce difficulties.

RCGP chair Professor Helen-Stokes Lampard said that 'data can be a very useful tool in improving patient care' but 'data on waiting times should not be used as a measure of performance, as this will be affected by too many variables'.

'Average waiting times will be influenced by population demographics and deprivation levels in an area, for example, as well as factors at a practice level, such as recruitment difficulties,' she said.

She added: 'The College has not shied away from highlighting the issue of soaring waiting times for patients to see their GP – and we want to work with NHS England and others to improve the service for patients, right across the NHS...

It is essential that any data derived from general practice is used in a meaningful way to inform and improve the health service and the care that patients receive, and is not simply used as a stick to beat hard working GPs and our teams with.

Readers' comments (48)

  • Waiting time less than 4 hours

    just go to A&E

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  • Yes guaranteed to see a GPthere ! IQ of politicians = 0

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  • Funding is X. Practices are struggling with workload.
    Funding is increased to Z with increased workload attached...............BOOOOM (Thats just my head exploding)

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  • X.Ray

    Pointless. I work in leafy suburb land where Maximus and Tabitha aren't allowed a sniffle or scratch without GP involvement. Unless demand is controlled you can measure all you want my waiting times wont fall.

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  • Probably best to have a long waiting time then? No point in my busting a gut to see everyone who phones up on my duty day because that means I am obviously coping well and need no more support. What about colleagues who've gone down the "advanced access" route with whom you can't book an appointment without they ring you back? NHSE is stuck in the past yet are in charge.

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  • while I normally hate everything the government do and say... problem is GPs are a little complacent on access. There is plenty of evidence that if you keep your appointments above 70-75/1000 pts per week you don't have access problems. Harry longman and hurley group have innovative software/schemes for reducing demand/diverting/signposting. I hear of practice - complaining they are overworked and the demand is huge - yet - they finish at 5pm and have half day closing and run 2 hour surgeries. we open ay 7am run till 7pm 8pm one night a week - open some Saturdays (all paid under the PMCF scheme) we do at least 3 hour surgeries and we try to keep our list size at 1800 ish per GP. im sat here and I look at our appointments and at 5pm we have 30 free. ive just seen little johnny with a sore throat. his dad rang about 9 mins ago - got an appointment and hes been seen and sent on his way (without antibiotics) we don't run a duty doc system - we are a large practice... and there is the rub - the future of GPland is not the small practice. super practices are the way forward - hire in proper managers - let them manager - let the senior clinicians decide the pathways - use skill mix and innovation to handle the demand - do a lot of other stuff to bring in the money.. yes there aren't enough GPs at moment - id love more - but its time for a change - the problem is - we either lead it - or the hospitals take over and we become staff grades - as the consultants wont want us in their car park!

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  • This is absolutely right and should be supported 100%:"they would also introduce a GP practice workload tool to measure what is happening inside primary care... the lack of this data on workload pressures had contributed to historic underfunding and was one of the reasons GP services have lost out compared to other parts of the NHS".
    The analysis of data (which should be readily extractable from clinical systems) should however be extended back at least a decade to measure the extent of underfunding over this time period. If 2017 is chosen as the benchmark, the damage has already been done.

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  • "He added that, while NHS England recognises general practice is under significant strain, it was also receiving investment – particularly in new workforce - and ‘therefore it’s reasonable to expect, on the back of that, improved access’." Thanks for the funding NHSE, but we can only improve our workforce with that funding if there are people out there who need jobs that we can employ. It took us 12 months to replace our retiring senior partner, meanwhile, our access suffered depending on locum availability. In a semi-rural location, it is hard to attract staff to come and work here. Happy to improve access if we can recruit the staff to help us do that.......

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  • You're gonna burn out then running 3hr surgeries working 7-7 and seeing everyone who chooses to ring up with a sore throat they've had for 9 minutes... where's the work life balance?

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  • Rogue1

    How does that work for a practice of say 4 GPs, and 2 GPs have a routine wait of 2 weeks but the other 2 have a wait of 2days? Do we just count 'you can get a routine appointment within 2days', or is it going to pit Dr against Dr?

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