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The pop art of 15-minute consultations

The pop art of 15-minute consultations

Oh, please, no, not that AGAIN?! How many more times??!!

I believe it was Andy Warhol who said that, at some point in the future, everyone will have 15 minutes of consultation time. Though maybe I’m getting confused. Exasperation does that to you.

Whatever. Here we go again with the ‘idea’ of implementing a ‘standard’ 15-minute consultation. Brilliant. This piece of pop-practice-philosophy really doesn’t need rehashing – it needs Warhol’s electric chair.

What is it, exactly, that people don’t understand about the complete pointlessness of pitching for 15-minute appointments? We could all start booking at this rate from tomorrow. It’s entirely up to us – that’s why it’s so easy for NHS England to rebuff the idea. The traditional ten-minute appointment, they’d point out (correctly), is no diktat. It’s just our pragmatic and traditional response balancing the various demands of general practice.

But hey, give it a go. Book patients at quarter hourly intervals and check out what happens. You’ll notice that you’re offering fewer appointments per day, on account of maths. If you don’t believe me, experiment by booking them into four-hour-long consultations to absolutely minimise those stress-induced feelings of homi/sui-cide you normally get mid-surgery. The patients will love it, too – but not the wait for the appointment. And that disgruntlement will be aimed directly at us, and will add fuel to the raging anti-GP media conflagration.

So let’s rewind. What’s the motivation behind the request for 15-minute appointments? Less pressure, right? But that’s not achieved by an arbitrary appointment length – we all know that patients get the time they need, whether that is, gloriously, one minute, or, tragically, 30.

Whereas it IS achieved by a cap on the number of appointments we can reasonably and safely be expected to provide each day. That’s the idea worth revisiting. Not only does it ease the consultension in a more functional, flexible way. It also diverts the ire of appointment-starved patients towards government. After all, we GPs would be quantifiably working to the contractual/safety max. The fact that this means the punters have to wait a month for an appointment would be the Government’s fault for not resolving our issues of workload and personpower.

Which means the stress and reputational damage resulting from achieving lengthier consultations is sustained by the politicians, not us. Or, as Warhol’s mate, Lichtenstein, would put it, ‘Pow!!!’

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Patrufini Duffy 13 May, 2021 2:12 pm

I’d actually prefer a 3-minute standard operating procedure. If NK or EW are keen.
1 minute for you, 1 minute for me, and 1 minute to wrap this trivia up.
But, the RCGP-accredited courses need another 13-minutes for warped ideas, hypochondriac Google concerns and drunken addictive expectations.
You give the patient more of your time, then I guarantee you they will rinse you dry, with a definite Poundland shopping list, obligatory mole check and argument why you switched their Yasmin to Lucette on departure. And if you have some free condoms and must to check their ear wax as their ears buzzed at the nightclub on Friday beside the speakers.
Time is not money, it is your Life.
Dripping away from many altruistic, good doers, whilst the companies, corporates and likes of OPEROSE and Babylon laugh at the beacons of goodwill called Dave and Jane. Shut down the law industry and GMC chirade and then you can get on with what you were trained to do. Not in fear, but in confidence and clarity. Believe in something, as most of you are perhaps fearing yourselves.
You know, I wouldn’t fly with any pilot who operated in constant fear and frustration, and who worked for an airline that belittled them like that. Pow I agree, like punching the mirror and making it yours again.

Katharine Morrison 14 May, 2021 7:34 pm

I think that for GPs sanity 15 minute appointments are necessary. The caveat is that those wanting face to face 15 minute GP appointments will need to be screened by phone to ascertain that they have a problem and that they really can’t see any one else.

Patrufini Duffy 17 May, 2021 11:05 pm

Arvind Madan is the co-founder of econsult. Quite a sickening game is being played out here. On all of us.

Sam Macphie 22 May, 2021 5:35 pm

Allison Pearson wrote an extremely interesting article in The Telegraph ( 11 May ) which included persuasive contributions from GPs and patients who clearly state how the Covid NHS system has let down many individuals, including, but not exclusively, cancer patients, no matter how well we feel we are helping patients. The ( Definitely-not-properly ) “open for business NHS” it seems. These events could happen to yourself or next of kin one day. Not good. The actual length of consultations seems less significant, when the difficulty many people have to see a GP f2f, when they are in true need, is the problem for many. Read it.