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Over 50% of patients find it hard to get an appointment with a GP, survey finds

Half of patients find it difficult to get an appointment with a GP, according to a survey of attitudes towards emergency care.

The research, conducted by the National Centre for Social Research, looked at attitudes towards emergency care based on interviews with almost 3,000 respondents.

It found that 51% of the population has found it hard to access an appointment with a GP, and 17% of patients prefer A&E to GPs because they can get tests done quickly.

However, the majority, 86%, also think that A&E services are overused.

The study showed more than 35% of patients across Britain prefer NHS services where they do not need to make an appointment, with this rising to 48% for those with no educational qualifications and those in deprived areas.

It follows NHS England’s annual GP survey which showed that 96% of patients had trust and confidence in the healthcare professional they talked to or saw during their last GP appointment.

The new study found that the group least likely to trust GPs is parents with children under the age of five, at 20%. They are also more likely to use the internet to resolve medical problems. This compares to 18% of those living in the most deprived areas and 16% of people with no qualifications.

Chair of the RCGP Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We understand our patients’ frustrations when they cannot secure a GP appointment when they need one, and GPs and our teams share their concerns.

‘However, patients should only ever go to A&E in an emergency – if they need to see a GP urgently, they should always be able to through our routine service, urgent treatment centres, and the GP out of hours service. We are working incredibly hard to ensure this happens, and this is reflected in the most recent NHS figures.

‘What this research highlights is that more public education is needed so that patients know where to turn when they become ill – and it gives useful insight into where this could be directed for the best possible impact.’

Director of the University of Sheffield’s Medical Care Research Unit, that commissioned the research, Alicia O’Cathain said: ‘Today’s findings illustrate that while the majority of the British population are satisfied with A&E services, there are marked differences in attitudes and understanding between different social groups when it comes to views on access and confidence in A&Es and GPs.

‘This may contribute to the over-use of critical emergency care functions. It’s clear that there are lessons in these findings which will help the Government to better understand and support those least confident in using health services and shape policy moving forward.’

It comes as average GP waiting times have exceeded two weeks for the first time ever