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GPs criticise health minister’s comments on length of GP appointments

A group of GPs has written an open letter criticising comments made by health minister Norman Lamb which appeared to criticise the fact he was unable to raise four separate health issues in one GP consultation.

In total, 75 GPs have signed a letter to The Daily Telegraph after the paper quoted Mr Lamb as saying that his own GP would not let him raise a fourth ‘really important’ health issue during a recent consultation as they had run out of time.

Mr Lamb was commenting on Prime Minister David Cameron’s £50 million ‘challenge’ fund for extended GP opening, which he said he hoped would end the culture of ‘rigid’ 10-minute appointments. He also added that instead of going through the ‘nightmare’ of getting a GP appointment, patients just want to be able to email GPs to get quick answers on their health problems.

Mr Lamb told the Telegraph: ‘I had an appointment last year and I had three or four things I wanted to raise. We got to the third issue and I was told the time had run out. I couldn’t raise the fourth issue. Typically, psychologically, it’s probably the last issue that is the really important one, but my time had run out.’

He said that email consultations, which are also being piloted via the PM’s fund, could ‘free up GPs’ time to concentrate on those older people who need more than the 10-minute consultation’.

But responding to the comments, the group of GPs, led by Birmingham GP and GP blogger Dr John Cosgrove, said they were ‘appalled’ by the comments.

The letter said: ‘It would be unsafe to attempt to address three or four different health issues in a single appointment as well as other public health tasks, many of which are set by the DH. Furthermore, time spent answering emails will be at the expense of spending time with other patients. As a health minister, Mr Lamb should understand this better than anyone.

‘Whilst Mr Lamb may wish to try an email consultation, he should first consider whether this is the best way to deal with what is likely to be a complex matter. He should also consider whether he would like it to be dealt with by a doctor who may already have been working for 12 hours that day.’

Dr Cosgrove said Mr Lamb has yet to respond to the letter.