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GP appointment waiting times cut by around half since before Covid

emergency care

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 week405
1-2 weeks 190
2-3 weeks 113
3-4 weeks 28
4-5 weeks7
More than 5 weeks5
Total number of GPs responding 748


David Church 5 August, 2021 11:14 am

Sorry, but this is rubbish and misleading because there have been too many un-considered alterations in the variables and the measuring .
Massive change in ‘initial triage’;
massive change in numbers of patients allowed to book an unneccessary GP appointment F2f, but too many of them getting high-level professoinal triage beyond what they really need.

Vinci Ho 5 August, 2021 11:15 am

The reality is :
(1) If these figures are correct and consistent with NHS England’s , the government (and its propaganda media) will spin towards this model as permanent. Well , we know the previous health secretary was obsessed with remote access
(2) More GPs are needed to answer phones , at least . The need to recruit more salaried GPs as well as ANP , is surging .
(3) A hybrid of remote access and face to face is inevitable. More patients indeed need to be seen and examined .
The current GP contract(s) is not fit for purpose. More terms and conditions are indicative and imperative. Five year GP deal is outdated now

Patrufini Duffy 5 August, 2021 1:57 pm

The 2-3 week wait for an appointment does no harm. It is actually therapeutic. And most will DNA it anyway because it was never needed, solved itself or because they’re less bored. Same day jargon just creates addiction and neediness.

Finola ONeill 5 August, 2021 2:52 pm

I’ve worked at surgeries that did full telephone triage pre Pandemic. Most did it for same day urgent list anyway. I think it is more effective and efficient and not a massive change in practice. We convert to F2F when needed anyway. I find econsults generally a waste of time and don’t add anything apart form workload. I think it is really important to differentiate tel triage which most of us have used for a lesser or greater extent pre Pandemic. And the econsult, app, remote model the govt is pushing to support private health companies like Babylon health, GP at hand etc that the govt either has shares in or are being lobbied by. These are two very distinct issues. Tel triage works, is more efficient and safer in my opinion but we are and have been massively undersaffed for years and that needs addressing. Ie more funding, more training places. ANPs can help in some ways but are not a panacea or a replacement and they also are limited in numbers. Nurses and paramedics, we nick from elsewhere in the NHS. Pharmacists and physios ditto. Overall we are just massively short staffed due to Tory years of underinvesting in staffing and training. It takes 5 yrs to train the ANPs, 10 yrs to train a GP so no quick solutions. The NHS bill the govt are pushing opens the NHS up to more privatisation. These private services can only recruit from the fixed pool so they will just be nicking our staff and making things worse. One of the many arguments to pause this bill.

John Graham Munro 5 August, 2021 3:04 pm

Finola O’Neill———-? 10 years training to be a G.P.———in my day, all you needed was basic medical knowledge on qualifying, common sense and off you went

Mark Goodwin 5 August, 2021 7:43 pm

These figures if true are still terrible, I can’t believe hope long it takes. my surgery triages and completes 95% of all queries within three hours on average (complete means and emailed or phoned agreed completion to their query, or the time taken to agree a ftf/investigation) and we offer a face-to-face appointment the same day for everyone who can be bothered to get dressed and come down.. or the next day or two who can’t come today! Sorry but this is reality for some.