Patients are waiting half the time for a GP appointment compared to before the pandemic, a snapshot survey by Pulse has shown.
The findings from May – calculated by a mid-point analysis – reveal the average waiting time for a non-urgent in-person appointment following triage is down to 8.7 days, while the average wait for a phone or video consultation is 7.4 days.
This compares with an average waiting time of more than two weeks pre-pandemic and before Covid forced practices to switch to a ‘total triage’ approach in which all patients are expected to contact their surgery remotely to book an appointment.
More than half of the GPs taking part in the survey said their patients were now waiting less than a week for a non-urgent in-person appointment following triage (see tables below).
Almost 65% of respondents said patients who booked a non-urgent telephone or online consultation were on average waiting less than a week (see tables below).
GP leaders have described the findings – based on a snap poll of around 750 UK GPs – as ‘remarkable’, considering NHS figures show GPs are delivering more appointments than before the pandemic.
They suggested the increase in the use of triage for patient calls, in combination with remote assessments, had contributed to the reduced waiting times, but noted ‘these do not reduce GP workload’.
GPs taking part in the survey also told Pulse remote ways of working were not a permanent solution.
One GP partner said: ‘We are using [online triage and consultation software] askmygp and it is probably unsustainable. We are recruiting more salaried GPs.’
RCGP vice chair Dr Gary Howsam said the higher average waiting time for a GP appointment before the pandemic was down to ‘intense workload pressures’, which he noted have worsened further during the Covid-19 outbreak.
He said: ‘These pressures have only intensified during the pandemic, with general practice making record numbers of consultations, so it’s remarkable to hear that patients have actually experienced reductions in waiting times for appointments and testament to the incredible efforts of GPs and their teams throughout the pandemic.’
Dr Howsam added: ‘The increase in remote consulting and patient “triage” that was introduced during the pandemic in order to maintain infection control in surgeries may have contributed to the reduction in waiting times.
‘However, these new ways of working do not reduce GP workload, with the profession continuing to work under huge pressure. This is a situation that can’t continue for much longer.’
GPs ‘urgently need’ an expanded workforce with the appropriate support and premises for patient access to be improved, health inequalities to be reduced and patient safety ensured, he said.
Last week the RCGP warned general practice was at ‘breaking point’ and called for urgent action from the Government to help GPs deal with the aftermath of Covid and prevent them and their staff from burning out.
The latest NHS figures show GP practices in England carried out 31.1 million recorded patient appointments in June 2021, including 3.6 million more non-vaccination appointments compared with June 2019.
How long is the average waiting time for a non-urgent in-person
appointment at your practice, following initial triage?
Less than a week 405 1-2 weeks 190 2-3 weeks 113 3-4 weeks 28 4-5 weeks 7 More than 5 weeks 5 Total number of GPs responding 748