Exclusive The average waiting time for a GP appointment in a year’s time will hit two weeks as they continue to increase, a Pulse survey has revealed.
The survey of more than 700 GPs across the UK reveals that one in four practices currently have a two-week wait for an appointment – an increase on the one in five who said this when the same survey was done last year.
It also reveals that 6% of GPs say patients are currently having to wait longer than three weeks, while almost 20% say the wait will be longer than three weeks in a year’s time.
The results come at a time when political parties are pushing forward policies on increasing access, with the Labour Party proposing every patient can see a GP within 48 hours, while the Conservatives want practices to offer a seven-day service, and same-day access for over 75s.
But Pulse’s survey reveals that practices are struggling to provide appointments within two weeks as it is because of increased workload, problems with recruitment and decreased funding.
GP leaders said there was ‘frustration’ that parties were looking to increase access without trying to support core general practice.
The survey found that more than 60% of GPs said patients had to currently wait longer than a week for an appointment, compared with 54% last year.
A mid-point analysis of the figures revealed that the average wait for an appointment in a year’s time will be exactly two weeks, compared with ten days currently. Last year, the average waiting time was nine days.
Dr Zishan Mehdi Syed, a GP partner in Maidstone, Kent, predicted that waiting times at his practice will be more than five weeks in 12 months’ time.
He said: ‘Unfortunately a great number of people have no idea whatsoever of how difficult my job is.’
‘Many people, for example, demand home visits during times when surgeries are conducted and do not appreciate that everything cannot be done in one day. General practice is becoming unsafe and dangerous due to inappropriate demand.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chair of the GPC, said that these increases in waiting times were ‘no surprise’, as practices were struggling to recruit GPs while resources are falling.
He added: The frustration is that all of the parties in the election campaign at the moment seem to be failing to address these really important issues that patients and GPs are so bothered about. None of the parties are really coming forward with any credible solutions for recruiting new GPs and making general practice attractive to young doctors.
‘We need them to create that atmosphere and to make a real change to what has been happening over the last decade or so.’
Labour leader Ed Miliband has said that his party will create a guarantee for patients to see a GP within 48 hours were his party to come to power, and it would create 8,000 new GPs by 2020 to achieve this.
The Conservatives target of a seven-day service will be made possible through an increase in the GP workforce of 5,000 new doctors, they claim.
An RCGP poll of 1,000 patients released this week found that half of them believed they would have to wait longer for appointments in two years’ time.
Survey results in full
How long is the average waiting time (currently) for a non-urgent appointment at your practice?
Less than a week: 39.5%
1-2 weeks: 35%
2-3 weeks: 19.5%
3-4 weeks: 5%
4-5 weeks: 1%
More than 5 weeks: 0%
How long do you predict the average waiting time for a non-urgent appointment will be in 12 months’ time?
Less than a week: 22%
1-2 weeks: 33%
2-3 weeks: 26%
3-4 weeks: 13%
4-5 weeks: 4%
More than 5 weeks: 2%
The survey launched on 9 February 2015, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 37 questions covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a Samsung HD TV as an incentive to complete the survey. Some 714 GP partners answered these questions.