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Patients struggle to access same-day appointments in Wales due to ‘lengthy’ telephone delays

Patients in Wales have difficulty getting on-the-day GP appointments because of the time spent trying to speak to a staff member on the phone, according to new research.

A study led by market researcher Beaufort Research and commissioned by the Welsh Government found that some patients face ‘lengthy delays’ from redialling or waiting for their call to be answered when attempting to get through to their surgery in the morning. 

It recommended that GP surgeries need to be more flexible with opening hours and that patients required more information about what was an urgent and non-urgent appointment, as well as what other services they could use for non-urgent problems.

This comes after the Government announced new access standards for GP practices in March – to be met by March 2021 – to ‘raise and improve the level of service for patients’ in response to falling satisfaction with GP services. 

The researchers looked at how the public perceives access in general practice by organising focus groups and conducting face-to-face interviews with 66 people in Cardiff, Carmathenshire and Gwynedd.

They found that patients experience a range of issues when trying to book appointments, including difficulties getting same-day appointments and concerns over receptionists’ ability to deal with their query.

Health minister Vaughan Gething said the research’s outcomes will ‘help inform the Welsh Government’s efforts to improve access to GP services’.

Other themes that contribute to patients’ negative access experiences included:

  • Having to explain to a receptionist the reason for the contact,
  • Not seeing a GP on the same day or within one or two days,
  • Having to wait a week or more for an appointment.

Mr Gething said: ‘We recently published a new set of standards for GP services and are providing an extra £13m to help GP surgeries deliver them. It is clear from the research the public recognises the pressure on our hard-working GPs and the need for everyone to choose well when considering what treatment they need.

‘However there is work to be done to help people make appointments and to see a GP or appropriate healthcare professional at a convenient time. With some small changes and better use of technology we can resolve many of these issues.’

He added: ‘We are introducing new standards and trialling new ways of working, including extended opening hours. There are many excellent examples of best practice among GP surgeries across Wales and our new standards are based on these. We have agreed a way forward with GPs in the new contract and I look forward to working with them to see these changes put in place.’

It follows reports that low morale among GPs has left Welsh out-of-hours posts unfilled, leading to closures across the region.