More patients have found it easier to contact their GP practice in the last month, despite GP numbers continuing to fall.
According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics, around seven in 10 (68%) people reported they had managed to make contact on the same day they tried.
Around six in 10 (60%) of those who tried to contact a GP practice for themselves or someone else in the past month also described their overall experience of the GP practice as ‘very or fairly good,’ while 22% reported that it was ‘very or fairly poor’.
However, about 15% of patients said it took them two or more days to contact their surgery and 10% said they didn’t manage to make contact at all, the new analysis showed.
A similar survey published in January by the ONS had found that over half (52%) reported that making an appointment was ‘difficult or very difficult’, while around a third (32%) reported it was ‘easy or very easy’.
When asked about their experience to make a GP appointment, adults had reported waiting too long (37%), difficulty contacting the practice (30%) and not being able to get an appointment (23%).
The new report said: ‘In the latest period, we asked adults about their experiences of accessing a GP practice.
‘Around half (49%) of adults reported trying to contact a GP practice for themselves or someone else in the past month.
‘When asked about the important issues facing the UK today, the most commonly reported issues continue to be the NHS (82%) and the cost of living (91%).’
Latest figures published yesterday by NHS Digital show that there were 27,231 full-time equivalent GPs in April, down 512 compared to last year and down almost 900 since December 2019.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee acting chair, told Pulse that these stats once again highlight ‘the failure of this government to fulfil its commitments to the public.’
He said: ‘GP numbers keep falling, we now have the equivalent of 2,133 fewer fully-qualified full time GPs than we did in September 2015 – despite successive government promises to recruit an additional 5,000 and then an additional 6,000 GPs.
‘Patient numbers are going up, each full-time GP is now responsible for 355 more patients than in September 2015.
‘The decline in the number of GP partners over this time is evidence of the intense pressures that practices and staff are working under.
‘Staffing shortages and backlogs across the rest of the healthcare system create additional pressure for GPs, who become responsible for caring for patients unable to access the services they need.’
Professor Kamila Hawthorne, who chairs the RCGP, told Pulse: ‘GPs and our teams are working incredibly hard to deliver safe, timely and appropriate care for our patients, in the face of unsustainable workforce and workload pressures.
‘We are delivering millions more appointments than before the pandemic, with almost half offered on the day of booking – but with hundreds fewer fully-qualified, full-time equivalent GPs than we did in 2019. In some areas, GPs are now responsible for more than 2,500 patients.
‘We share our patients’ frustration when they can’t access our care – this is not the fault of hard-working GP teams, but due to decades of underfunding and poor workforce planning.
‘We simply do not have enough GPs or other members of the practice team to meet patient demand that is growing in both volume and complexity.’
Ruth Rankine, director of the primary care network at the NHS Confederation, told Pulse that the drop in the number of full-time GPs ‘will not come as a surprise to many leaders.’
She said: ‘This will prove to be very disappointing news for the health service, the government, patients and GPs themselves who are delivering more appointments month on month since the pandemic.
‘GPs are under immense pressure with a majority saying that their job is extremely stressful and there is a risk that this will become a vicious cycle where staff leave as a result.
‘The government must aim its focus in the long overdue workforce plan to retain the workforce we already have; otherwise we risk further frustrating patients by not having enough staff to deliver fast, safe care.’
Liberal Democrat health spokesperson and MP Daisy Cooper said: ‘These damning figures show the Conservatives are completely breaking their promise to hire more GPs.
‘The Conservatives have neglected local health services and plunged them into crisis. Their inaction is leaving far too many people waiting in pain and distress for a GP appointment.
‘By pledging to recruit and retain more GPs and give local surgeries the support and tools they need to do their jobs, Liberal Democrats have set out a clear plan to ensure everyone can see their doctor when they need to.’
The report’s findings in full
In the latest period, we asked adults about their experiences of accessing a GP practice.
Around half (49%) of adults reported trying to contact a GP practice for themselves or someone else in the past month.
Of these adults:
around 7 in 10 (68%) reported they had managed to make contact on the same day they tried (had received a response from a receptionist or clinician or been able to book an appointment)
8% reported they had made contact on the day after
15% reported they had made contact two or more days later
10% reported they didn’t manage to make contact with the GP practice
Around 4 in 10 (40%) of these adults reported it was easy or very easy to contact the GP practice, whereas 36% reported that it was difficult or very difficult.
Around 6 in 10 (60%) of these adults described their overall experience of the GP practice as very or fairly good, and 22% reported that it was very or fairly poor.
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