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More patients struggle to get through to GP practices by phone

Fewer patients are finding it easy to get through to their GP practice via telephone, according the latest GP Patient Survey.

However the annual exercise showed that almost all patients continue to have confidence and trust in their GP and other practice staff.

The survey was completed by around 740,000 patients in England ‘prior to the Covid-19 pandemic’ between January and March 2020, NHS England said.

It showed that:

  • 95% of patients had ‘confidence and trust’ in the healthcare professional they talked to or saw during their last GP appointment, compared with 96% in both 2019 and 2018.
  • More than eight in 10 patients (82%) also reported having a ‘good’ overall experience at their practice – similar to the 83% and 84% who reported this in 2019 and 2018 respectively.
  • Almost half (44%) rated their overall experience ‘very good’ in 2020.
  • A third (66%) described their overall experience of booking an appointment as good while 56% saw or spoke to someone when they wanted to or sooner.

However, the proportion of patients who say it is ‘easy’ to get through to their practice on the phone continues to fall.

This year 65% said they found it easy to get in touch with their GP practice by phone – down from 68% in 2019, 70% in 2018 and 81% in 2012.

And the proportion of patients who were satisfied with the appointment slots made available to them also dropped two percentage points from 65% last year to 63% in 2020.

NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani said the pandemic provides an opportunity to ‘improve access’ by digital means.

She said: ‘GPs see nearly one million patients every day and it is positive that more than nine in every ten of them have confidence and trust in their family doctor.

‘The coronavirus pandemic has radically altered the way patients use primary care services, giving us an opportunity to continue to improve access to high quality care, including greater use of convenient remote consultations, backed by £4.5bn of added investment by 2023/24.’

NHS England stressed that coronavirus had not impacted the ‘validity of comparisons’ with previous surveys as the majority of questionnaires were completed before the pandemic.

However, BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey called for recognition of the ‘remarkable achievements’ made by practices during the coronavirus pandemic, accompanied by additional investment and workforce expansion.

He said: ‘Practices have had to contend with rapidly increasing demand, growing workload pressures and longstanding challenges with workforce recruitment. 

‘In spite of this, they have been able to achieve very high levels of satisfaction from patients. This is a sign of how hard GPs and their teams have worked to try to meet the needs of their patients, something that has continued to be the case in these unprecedented times.’

Dr Vautrey added that GPs will face ‘significant clinical and organisational challenges’ as they continue to provide care for patients while dealing with the ‘continued impact’ of the pandemic.

He said: ‘At this time it is more vital than ever that Government ensures the necessary funding and support is provided to the medical professions who, in their response to Covid-19, have demonstrated what can be achieved when practices are given the trust, autonomy, flexibility and freedom to act as the leaders of the profession in local communities.’

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