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Average GP waiting times exceed two weeks for first time ever

GP appointment

Exclusive The average wait for a routine GP appointment is now more than two weeks, for the first time ever, according to Pulse’s annual survey of waiting times.

A midpoint analysis of data from the survey of 901 GPs across the UK found that the average waiting time is now 15 days – the first time it has ever exceeded a fortnight.

More than 22% of GPs said that the wait for a routine appointment was more than three weeks, with 6% said that it was longer than four weeks.

This follows the news earlier this year that there was a 15% increase in month-long waits for GP appointments, according to the BMA.

Official figures from earlier this year suggested that the average waiting times for all appointments in England was more than three weeks now. However, this data included follow-up appointments, where it was clinically appropriate to see the GP at a later date.

However, the NHS data also found that 40% of all appointments were same-day, urgent appointments.

The number of full-time equivalent GPs has been falling in recent years at the same time demand has been rising.

Survey results in full

How long is the average waiting time for non-urgent appointments at your practice?

Less than a week:     180

1-2 weeks:                 243

2-3 weeks:                 280

3-4 weeks:                 142

4-5 weeks:                 45

More than 5 weeks:    11

Total who answered the question: 901

The Pulse survey was launched in June 2019, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 35 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for £300 John Lewis vouchers as an incentive to complete the survey.

Pulse’s new survey found that over 30% of GPs said the average waiting time was between two and three weeks, with only 20% saying the average was less than a week.

Responses from the survey included:

  • One GP who recorded a four to five week waiting list said: ‘Our list size continues to grow because there are so many housing developments. We are poorly remunerated under the GMS contract for the hard work that we do. Patient demand continues to soar with higher expectations despite dreadful government funding. MPs have a lot to answer for.’
  • Another GP, also with a four to five week waiting list, said: ‘We currently have barely any pre-bookable appointments available due to lack of capacity.’
  • one GP who responded to the survey said this might be an underestimate because: ‘We don’t release appointments in an open-ended manner, so [it is] impossible to know the “hidden” waiting list.’
  • Another said though their practice’s waiting time average was now less than a week, this was due to changing the booking system.The GP said: ‘We have just changed our appointment system to predominantly book on the day as we were running at 4-5 weeks but noted people booking 3-4 appointments “just in case”. Our maximum booking slot time is now seven days, although GPs can book up to 4 weeks in advance for specific follow up needs.’

BMA GP committee chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, said: ‘GPs’ number one priority is treating their patients and they work incredibly hard to do so, often outside of their contracted hours in practices that are understaffed.

‘What is clear however, is that despite the best efforts of practices, patient demand is continuing to grow and with it the rise in the number of those with increasingly complex and chronic conditions where longer and multiple appointments are necessary.

‘Whilst we are not seeing the much needed rise in the number of GPs the government has committed to deliver, the commitment secured as part of the GP contract negotiations in England for new funding to employ increased numbers of healthcare staff to work alongside GPs in their practices is a positive step forward and should help in tackling the challenges of catering to the growing needs of the population.’

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘When patients need to see a GP or member of the practice team urgently, we are working incredibly hard to ensure they can get access – and this is reflected in the most recent NHS figures. But people are waiting too long for routine appointments, and the concern is that non-serious conditions might deteriorate, or patients give up trying to see the GP and we miss signs of serious illness early when it could be dealt with simply and more cost-effectively in primary care.

‘The College has long been raising the alarm about escalating resource and workforce pressures in general practice, and the negative impact this is having on our patients. GPs and our teams are making more consultations than ever before – more than a million a day across the UK – but as our population grows and more people present with multiple conditions, we desperately need more GPs and more time to give our patients the care they deserve.’

She said that there had been ‘ very welcome promises of investment in our service and more GPs and members of the practice team across the four nations of the UK’. However, she added: ‘These must be delivered urgently and in full, or waiting times will get worse, ultimately jeopardising the care we are able to deliver for patients’.

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘As the latest official figures show, around half of all GP appointments are booked and taken on the same day, or within 24 hours and many patients who require non urgent appointments do so at times to suit them or when required for routine follow-ups.’

Average appointment times every year:

2019:          14.8 days

2018:          13.9 days

2017:          12.8 days

2016:          12.8 days

We asked every year ‘How long is the average waiting time for non-urgent appointments at your practice?’, offering the options of less than a week, 1-2 weeks, 2-3 weeks, 3-4 weeks, 4-5 weeks and more than 5 weeks. We calculated the totals using a midpoint analysis, removing those who answered ‘don’t know’. The number of respondents ranged from 728-901.