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Patients want to see GPs for appointments more quickly, says watchdog



The public’s most common frustration in relation to GPs is the difficulty of getting an appointment quickly, a new report has found.

Healthwatch England, the independent champion for users of health and social care services, found that most patients were generally happy with their GP with their biggest gripe being that they could not get an appointment soon enough. 

The watchdog heard responses from over 400,000 people this year, an increase of 19% on 2016/17. 

The report stated: ‘The most common frustration we hear about is that people can’t get a GP appointment soon enough. They struggle to get an appointment over the phone and online.

‘Poor access has a knock-on effect. Long waits to be seen can prevent people from being diagnosed, treated and referred to specialist services.’

A Pulse survey in May found that average waiting times for GP appointments remains at two weeks with one in six GPs saying they had to stop routine bookings limiting appointments to emergency patients.

The BMA says long waits for patients are a result of the pressure practices are under with growing demand unable to be matched due to problems with recruiting and retaining enough GPs. 

There is also concern about the impact of the Government’s drive to a seven-day-a-week service despite no apparent public enthusiasm for Sunday appointments.

Meanwhile, Healthwatch England highlighted positive feedback for the way GPs treat mental health patients increased this year.

The report found that nine out of 10 adults with mental health conditions are supported solely by their GP or primary care. Half of feedback about GPs supporting people with anxiety and depression was positive.

22% of enquiries Healthwatch received from the public related to GP services. This compared to 15% about hospitals, 27% for social care and 36% other issues. In relation to GPs common questions asked were: 

  • What GP services are in their area
  • How can they register
  • How can they change GPs when they are unhappy with the service

A smaller number asked about out of hours services, services for foreign nationals and how they could make a complaint about their GP.

The report also found difficulties with: 

  • care home residents seeing their GP
  • some GP practices preventing people from registering because they did not have a permanent address, despite this being against NHS guidelines 
  • GP registration forms shared in a format that people with learning disabilities would not understand.