Only a ‘massive investment’ in general practice will turn around the lowest patient satisfaction ratings in six years, the BMA’s GP Committee has said.
The results of the annual NHS GP patient survey, covering January to April, found that (71.3%) had a ‘good overall experience’ of their GP practice, a slight decrease from 72.4% in 2022 and the lowest level since the 2018 survey.
Dr Richard van Mellaerts, BMA’s GPCE deputy chair, told Pulse the fact that nearly three-quarters of patients report having a good or very good experience is a ‘huge achievement by practice teams’ in the face of ‘enormous challenges’.
But a ‘persistent failure’ from the Government to ‘get a grip’ on the recruitment and retention crisis means practices are ‘struggling to cope with demand’.
‘The backlogs from Covid, and record waits for outpatient appointments, coupled with an aging population, means that every practice must do more with less, just to maintain the care they offer,’ he said.
‘This is simply unsustainable without massive investment from government. If general practice fails, the NHS fails.
‘So while many of these findings are positive we should not be lulled into thinking that all is well and good in general practice.’
Dr van Mellaerts said that delivering the highest quality care under these conditions is ‘taking its toll on GPs’ and GP numbers will continue to decline unless ‘something is done to stem the tide of GPs leaving’.
‘This survey is proof positive that the problems in general practice today lie squarely on the shoulders of a Government that refuses to invest properly in the health service and not on GPs or practice staff who are going above and beyond to ensure patients are getting the care they deserve,’ he said.
The survey findings showed that more than half of patients (50.2%) said it was ‘not easy’ to get through to someone at their GP practice on the phone, up from 47.3% last year and the highest percentage since the question was introduced in 2012.
The proportion of patients reporting a ‘good overall experience’ of making an appointment has also decreased to its lowest level for six years (54.4%) – a 1.8 percentage point decrease from the 2022 survey (56.2%).
The survey showed that this had declined from 2018 to 2020, followed by an increase in 2021 before continuing to fall again from 2022.
However, the percentage of patients who needed an appointment and said they had avoided making one in the last 12 month for any reason decreased to 51.4% from 55.4% last year.
The annual survey, conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS England since 2007, received 759,149 responses.
The results also showed that:
- 72% said they were satisfied with the appointment they were offered the last time they tried to book (71.9% in 2022)
- 49.8% got an appointment ‘at a time they wanted or sooner’, down from 51.2% in 2022
- At their last appointment, 93% said they had ‘confidence and trust in the healthcare professional’, 91% said that ‘their needs were met’ and 83.8% said the ‘healthcare professional was good at treating them with care and concern’
- 53.5% used an online general practice service in the past 12 months
- 27.9% of patients who needed an appointment said they had avoided making one in the last 12 months ‘as they found it too difficult’
- 44.9% reported a good overall experience of NHS services when their GP practice was closed, down from 50.2% in 2022
- 15.9% of patients did not initially get an appointment the last time they tried, of these around one in ten went to A&E (12.2%)
Dr Michael Mulholland, honorary secretary of the RCGP, told Pulse that the findings reflect ‘an over-stretched and over-burdened service’, with hardworking staff managing to provide a positive experience for patients despite facing intense workload and workforce pressures.
He said: ‘The vast majority of patients had confidence and trust in the highly qualified professionals they encountered at their last appointment – and it is reassuring to see that in over 90% of cases patients felt that their needs were met.
‘This is testament to the fact that, regardless of pressures, GPs and their teams are doing an excellent job for their patients.’
Louise Ansari, chief executive of patient champion Healthwatch England said: ‘We know that GP teams across the country are working hard to see and treat more patients, while facing workforce and workload challenges.
‘To address the immediate challenges, teams must be supported to quickly hire and train more admin staff such as care navigators to improve patient choice and experience.
‘And steps should be taken by decision-makers to make sure that cost is never a barrier for anyone needing to access care, including making GP telephone numbers free to call.’
Dr Jamie O’Halloran, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: ‘Primary care plays a vital role in healthcare provision and, at its best, is central to any aspiration to improve health and narrow inequalities.
‘Yet, this new data shows that patients are finding it difficult to get GP appointments and are increasingly turning to already overstretched A&E departments to get care, particularly patients living in the most deprived parts of England.’
Today the Government announced practices will get a funding uplift to cover a 6% pay rise for salaried GPs and other staff, after it accepted a pay review body recommendation for NHS staff, although GP partners are excluded.
It said that funding for the pay rises will need to come from existing NHS funding with DHSC and NHS England having to ‘reprioritise’.
The 2023 GP Patient Survey results
Overall, how would you describe your experience of your GP practice?
36.8% very good
34.5% fairly good
14.5% neither good nor poor
8.4% fairly poor
5.8% very poor
Generally, how easy or difficult is it to get through to someone at your GP practice on the phone?
50.2% not easy
Overall, how would you describe your experience of making an appointment?
31.7% fairly good
22.7% very good
17.9% neither good nor poor
14.0% fairly poor
13.7% very poor
Source: GP patient survey
30 November 2023
30 November 2023
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