Patients in rural parts of England face ‘significantly longer waits’ for their GP than those living in urban areas, according to the Liberal Democrats.
The party commissioned research from the House of Commons Library which has shown that 6% of patients in rural areas waited 28 days or more for a GP appointment between April and June, which is a third higher than the 4.6% of patients in urban areas.
Similarly, just over one in five (20.6%) patients living in rural parts of the country waited two weeks or more, compared with 16.9% of patients in urban areas.
However, the House of Commons Library advised care when interpreting this data as there may be ‘confounding factors’, such as the fact that waiting times may reflect patient preference rather than simply ‘enforced waits’.
Based on this data, the Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to implement a new strategy to improve GP access in rural areas.
They have also emphasised again their pledge to give all patients the right to see their GP within seven days, which was announced last year.
This target would be ‘enshrined’ in the NHS Constitution, and would be achieved by boosting the GP workforce by 8,000, improving retention, and launching a campaign encouraging retired doctors or doctors working abroad to return to the NHS.
This analysis and renewed pledges on general practice come ahead of the party’s conference later this month.
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: ‘GPs should be the front door to the NHS, but that door has been slammed shut in people’s faces after years of Conservative broken promises and neglect.
‘Far too many people are being left without the rapid care and treatment they need, piling more pressure onto our hospitals and other NHS services.
‘Our rural communities are being particularly badly impacted by these painfully long GP waits, showing again how the Conservatives are taking them for granted.’
RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said that ‘arbitrary access targets make good soundbites’ but they do not provide long-term solutions to the general practice crisis.
She said: ‘Our patients should be able to see a GP when they need one, regardless of where they live, and GPs are as worried and frustrated as they are when they have to wait longer than they should for appointments.’
‘Demand for our services is rising at the same time as we have more GPs leaving the profession than entering it, and general practice itself is now in dire need of support after years of under-investment and poor workforce planning,’ Professor Hawthorne added.
Ahead of the publication of NHS England’s long-term workforce plan in June, the Lib Dems warned of a ‘GP retirement time bomb’ and said the plan must include a clear strategy to retain GPs.
Over the summer, the party tabled a bill aimed at forcing the Government to ‘come clear about their failures’ and end the ‘crises’ facing general practice and dentistry, and also called on the health secretary to launch a ‘GP rescue plan’.