Month-long waits for a GP appointment have increased significantly in the past year, according to a new BMA report.
The BMA looked at official figures to see how the NHS has been performing over recent winters, mostly between January and March.
It found that 2.23 million patients waited more than 28 days to get a GP appointment this year – an increase of 15% from last year.
According to the BMA, these waits were partly due to the ‘continuing shortages in the number of GPs working’.
The report said: ‘Primary care services were stretched this winter. For the first time, we are able to report data on pressures in primary care, showing that patients are even more likely than last year to have long waits for GP appointments.
‘Fewer same day appointments and significant rises in the number of appointments involving a wait of over a week shows that primary care was even more stretched this winter than last winter.’
However, the BMA stressed that the lack of further and more detailed data on primary care activity and performance remain a key issue.
It said: ‘There is a still a lack of data on primary care pressures. Data collected all year round and winter specific data in secondary care is not replicated in primary care.
‘We can however identify evidence of pressures from the available data published on GP appointments and workforce levels.’
An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Appointments booked and attended over 28 days include many patients who require routine follow-ups or prefer to book dates to suit them.
‘Around half of all GP appointments are booked and taken on the same day, or within 24 hours.’
The report also showed:
- Two-week waits for GP appointments rose by 13% on last year, while appointments involving a wait of over a week increased by 9%, which now represents 30% of all appointments.
- There were 213,000 fewer same-day GP appointments than last year.
- The numbers of qualified full-time equivalent GPs fell to 28,596, a loss of 600 GPs in a year. This is despite the number of registered patients rising every month since records began in November 2017.
- Almost a quarter of cancer patients waited more than two months for their first treatment after an urgent referral by a GP, with only 76.2% being seen within the 62 days – below the 85% target. Overall, 6,240 people were waiting beyond the target, a 39% rise on last year.
- The number of people waiting over 21 days to see a cancer specialist rose from 5,099 to 8,820, a 73% increase.
- Between January and February 2019, 92.5% of patients were seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of referral for the first time in a winter period, failing short of the 93% target. The target was missed for nine of the past twelve months.
- 36% of NHS providers missed the two-week target in January 2019, up 15% on the same period last year.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Behind these statistics, which show the NHS plunged deeper into crisis this winter, are stories of real lives in distress.
‘Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families.’
He added: ‘It also places stress on the clinicians who treat them as they are well aware that the cancer may have worsened during the delay between referral and treatment.’
BMA patient liaison group chair Amanda Cool said: ‘When a patient receives a cancer diagnosis it is devastating. What that individual need is rapid, urgent assessment to ensure they get the treatment they need.
‘These latest figures show that thousands of patients are being left in limbo and that the NHS is now missing its own targets across the board.’
She added: ‘The Government needs to urgently examine why this is happening and put in place measures that gives patients the high level of care they deserve.’
This story was first published on our sister publication Pulse.