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GP consultations will not reach 15 minutes until 2086, finds study

GP consultations will only reach 15 minutes long by 2086 as the UK is found to have one of the shortest consultation times in Europe, according to a new study.

Researchers looking into the lengths of primary care consultation times worldwide have found that GP appointments in the UK are getting 4.2 seconds longer each year, based on data from 1952 through to 2014.

At this rate, the BMJ Open paper says ‘the consultation length in the UK would only reach 15 minutes in 2086’.

GP leaders have said the study’s findings are ‘concerning’ with the standard 10-minute appointment ‘inadequate’ as patients visit their GP with more complex needs.

The study also found that GP consultations in the UK are some of the shortest in Europe at an average of 9.2 minutes based on a study of 13.4 million consultations in 2014. 

A report backed by the chief medical officer for England, Dame Sally Davies, found that 9.2-minute appointments do not ‘give sufficient time for conversations about treatment options guided by evidence-based decision aids, or about the patient’s goals and priorities’.

The researchers, all from UK universities, also found the short consultations a worry, adding that this is ‘likely to adversely affect patient healthcare and physician workload and stress’.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard suggested consultation times were too short for patients visit their GP with ‘multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological’.

But she added that ‘offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments’, when an RCGP survey has already found that patients will be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP on 100m occasions by 2020.

She said: ‘We urgently need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View, which includes £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, delivered in full – and for similar promises to be made and delivered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – so that we have the resources and workforce to offer longer consultations to our patients who need them.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, added that the BMA has ‘long argued’ that the 10-minute consultation time is not long enough.

He said: ‘It’s important that those individuals who need more time with their GP can get it and this relies on practices having the necessary resources and staff to deliver personalised care for each patient.’

Their comments come as Pulse revealed that GPs in Manchester are able to offer appointments that last up to 30 minutes for patients with complex needs after receiving £42m from the GP Forward View.

But Dr Robert Varnam, NHS England’s head of general practice development, has said that GPs have ‘chosen to work in 10-minute appointment slots’, when some could be seen in five minutes and others in 20 minutes.

Fight against 10-minute appointments

The 10-minute GP appointment has long been under discussion, with GP leaders agreeing several years ago that they are ‘failing the needs of patients’

A BMA survey on the topic found that nine out of ten GPs think the ten-minute consultation standard is inadequate for patient care.

The RCGP has also campaigned for half-hour appointments to be the norm, while Professor Stokes-Lampard has repeatedly said NHS England’s pledged investment and workforce commitments must be delivered so that appointments can be longer and access improved.

Some areas are already moving to 15-minute appointments with NHS Oxfordshire CCG planning to move to longer appointments for complex paitents.

Meanwhile, GP leaders negotiating a new Scottish GP contract have said they expect it to be the end of restrictive 10-minute consultations.