Somehow, I don’t think this will come as news to you. But the Academy of Medical Sciences has just concluded that the 9.2 minute average GP appointment length ‘does not give sufficient time for conversations about treatment options’.
No. It doesn’t. Once we have ploughed through the various agendas which these days comprise the average consultation and which really don’t need cataloguing here, time pressure means that any treatment-option ‘conversation’ involves me waving a prescription with one hand while buzzing for the next patient with the other.
I am actually getting very bored of well-meaning bodies like the AMS or the RCGP stating that we need longer consultations, not least because it merely invites less well-meaning bodies, like the Government, to reply that we can choose whatever appointment time we like. True, but only at the expense of: a) Prolonging waiting times from the current ‘unacceptable’ to something approaching ‘risible’ or b) Our sanity as we’re forced to work wall-to-wall surgeries.
While everyone else pontificates or rationalises, we’re left to cope. And that means either we take shortcuts, risks and the paths of least resistance, or that we resort to aggressive posters warning patients that they’re restricted to ONE PROBLEM PER CONSULTATION (which, by the way, is unrealistic, inappropriate, dangerous and counterproductive but nonetheless so attractive that we may well take this idea and run with an updated version in which patients’ presentations are strictly limited to 140 characters, after which the trap-door opens).
This will all be solved by forming bigger practices, improved recruitment, working smarter, yada yada yada. Except that no it won’t, certainly not for many years. The laws of physics remain and you cannot time-warp twenty minutes for a ten minute slot, and that’s all I can offer. The only solution is to take something away: on-the-day urgents, the open ended appointment commitment, residential homes, diabetes care, all of the above, something, anything. Give us space and we will give them time.
Anyone listening? Good. Because I expect an answer within exactly 9.2 minutes.
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield