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Two-week wait for GP appointments to become the norm in many practices 'within a year'

Exclusive Four in ten GPs predict the average waiting time for appointments at their practice will exceed two weeks from next April, as they struggle to cope with unprecedented levels of workload.

The survey of nearly 500 GPs shows that they expect average waiting times for an appointment to increase from nine days in April 2014 to 13 days from April 2015.

Only a fifth of GPs said that the average wait for a non-urgent appointment at their surgery was more than two weeks currently. But this proportion doubled to 40% when they were asked for their prediction of waiting times in 12 months time.

GP leaders said that this is indicative of increasing workloads and reductions in resources, with GPs receiving a funding uplift way below inflation this year.

The results also showed that less than half of GPs - 43% - said that the average waiting time for a non-urgent appointment is currently less than a week.

However, only one-quarter of GPs said they would be able to offer less than one week average waiting times from April next year.

The results follow a Labour Party pledge earlier this month to consider a contractual change that GPs would see patients offered an appointment within 48 hours. 

It also chimes with analysis by the RCGP, which estimated that 34 million patients in England will fail to get an appointment with their GP in 2014, because of reductions in funding for general practice over the last decade.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘These survey results demonstrate what all GPs know – GP workload is dramatically increasing but the resources to deliver a good service are decreasing.’

‘Instead of funding cuts we need real and long-term investment to take on more GPs and improve practice premises. That’s why we launched our “Your GP Cares” campaign, and we hope as GPs and patients join us we can make NHS England the Department of Health listen to our concerns and provide the investment we so urgently need.’

Essex LMCs chief executive Dr Brian Balmer said that GP shortages and surges in patient demand are the reasons behind the bleak predictions.

He said: ‘You will read in the news that some patients are waiting three weeks for an appointment, but it’s the same story as saying that the GP at that practice is working a 14-hour day.  It’s interesting because in the media when A&Es are full we hear that staff are working really hard, but when GPs surgeries cannot see patients quickly the perception is that GPs are not working hard enough.’

Survey results in full

How long is the average waiting time for a non-urgent appoint at your practice?

Less than a week: 43.7%

1-2 weeks: 37%

2-3 weeks: 14.9%

3-4 weeks: 3.8%

4-5 weeks: 0.2%

More than five weeks: 0.4%

 

How long do you predict the average waiting time for a non-urgent appointment will be in 12 months’ time?

Less than a week: 25.9%

1-2 weeks: 33%

2-3 weeks: 26.5%

3-4 weeks: 10.2%

4-5 weeks: 3.3%

More than weeks: 1.1%

 

About the survey: Pulse launched this survey of readers on 15 April 2014, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 25 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on any one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletters, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. As part of the survey, respondents were asked to specify their job title. A small number of non-GPs were screened out to analyse the results for this question. This question was answered by 460 GPs.

Readers' comments (25)

  • Barnet Healthwatch have published a report ( http://www.healthwatchbarnet.co.uk/about/docs/gp-appointment-system-report ) showing that patient satisfaction is more related to practice management, educating patients, managing patient expectations than resources per patient. They are producing a Communication Toolkit to help Practices audit and develop simple, coordinated communication plans.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    I wonder WHERE the doctor with lots of free apts works? I would be very surprised if it were an urban GMS practice, unless a University one.

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  • I believe that GPs are partially to be blamed for this crisis..
    ..so many patients are mismanaged being given unnecessary 'follow-up' appointments for reviews where god-knows-what happens. There is a way to managed patient demands, and it is to say I as a GP cannot change your lifestyle - that's your responsibility! Time and time again I have seen GPs over medicate and over medicalise patients (esp, the 'heartsink' ones). Quite frankly I think the number of patients on Z drugs and hypnotics is simply scandalous!

    Instead of wasting so much effort to negotiate a cushy contract back in 2004 GPs should have took a view that's in the wider public interest. GPs should have never accepted QOF, there should have been a lot more emphasise on tackling unnecessary demand and responsibilities such as sick lines etc. I hate having to waste time solving a myriad of social problems when I know that slot could have been better spent looking after an elderly patient with multiple co-morbiditites..I'm out of GP as soon as I can escape

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  • As a health care professional it would be totally unacceptable to expect clients to wait weeks for services, but my own experience is that I tend not to use my GP services if I can get treatment that I can buy over the counter, but most recently I needed my GP service, I was given an appointment for 4 weeks I attended the appointment was sent for an x-ray was told to wait two weeks before contacting my GP for a further appointment and was given an appointment for another 4 weeks 10 weeks in all no further on. With the acception for being told by the recptionist that she had looked at my file I did not need to see the doctor after a little persuasion by myself to the receptionist that actually it was my choice and i wish to see the doctors she proceeded to tell me that its a four week wait. who is the trained professional here.

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  • Sorry, am I missing something here? What is exactly so wrong about waiting 2 weeks for a non urgent consultation with your GP? Don't we wait 33 weeks for a 'routine' outpatient appointment in secondary care in Wales? I think I wait more than 2 weeks for an appointment with my dentist, bank manager, builder, electrician, hairdresser......and guess what? Things often get better of their own accord if you give them time!

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