The average wait for a routine GP appointment is now more than two weeks, for the first time ever, according to our sister publication Pulse’s annual survey of waiting times.
A midpoint analysis of data from the survey of 901 GPs across the UK found that the average waiting time is now 15 days – the first time it has ever exceeded a fortnight.
More than 22% of GPs said that the wait for a routine appointment was more than three weeks, with 6% saying that it was longer than four weeks.
This follows the news earlier this year that there was a 15% increase in month-long waits for GP appointments, according to the BMA.
Official figures from earlier this year suggested that the average waiting time for all appointments in England was more than three weeks. However, this data included follow-up appointments, where it was clinically appropriate to see the GP at a later date.
The NHS data also found that 40% of all appointments were same-day, urgent appointments.
‘Patient demand continues to soar’
Pulse’s new survey found that over 30% of GPs said the average waiting time was between two and three weeks, with only 20% saying the average was less than a week.
Responses from the survey included:
- One GP who recorded a four to five week waiting list said: ‘Our list size continues to grow because there are so many housing developments. We are poorly remunerated under the GMS contract for the hard work that we do. Patient demand continues to soar with higher expectations despite dreadful government funding. MPs have a lot to answer for.’
- Another GP, also with a four to five week waiting list, said: ‘We currently have barely any pre-bookable appointments available due to lack of capacity.’
- One GP who responded to the survey said this might be an underestimate because: ‘We don’t release appointments in an open-ended manner, so [it is] impossible to know the “hidden” waiting list.’
- Another said though their practice’s waiting time average was now less than a week, this was due to changing the booking system. The GP said: ‘We have just changed our appointment system to predominantly book on the day as we were running at 4-5 weeks but noted people booking 3-4 appointments “just in case”. Our maximum booking slot time is now seven days, although GPs can book up to 4 weeks in advance for specific follow up needs.’
Promises of investment must be met
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘When patients need to see a GP or member of the practice team urgently, we are working incredibly hard to ensure they can get access – and this is reflected in the most recent NHS figures. But people are waiting too long for routine appointments, and the concern is that non-serious conditions might deteriorate, or patients give up trying to see the GP and we miss signs of serious illness early when it could be dealt with simply and more cost-effectively in primary care.
‘The College has long been raising the alarm about escalating resource and workforce pressures in general practice, and the negative impact this is having on our patients. GPs and our teams are making more consultations than ever before – more than a million a day across the UK – but as our population grows and more people present with multiple conditions, we desperately need more GPs and more time to give our patients the care they deserve.’
She said that there had been ‘very welcome promises of investment in our service and more GPs and members of the practice team across the four nations of the UK’. However, she added: ‘These must be delivered urgently and in full, or waiting times will get worse, ultimately jeopardising the care we are able to deliver for patients’.
Survey results in full
How long is the average waiting time for non-urgent appointments at your practice?
Less than a week: 180
1-2 weeks: 243
2-3 weeks: 280
3-4 weeks: 142
4-5 weeks: 45
More than 5 weeks: 11
Total who answered the question: 901
The Pulse survey was launched in June 2019, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 35 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to readers via the Pulse website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for £300 John Lewis vouchers as an incentive to complete the survey.
Average appointment times every year:
2019: 14.8 days
2018: 13.9 days
2017: 12.8 days
2016: 12.8 days
Pulse asked every year ‘How long is the average waiting time for non-urgent appointments at your practice?’, offering the options of less than a week, 1-2 weeks, 2-3 weeks, 3-4 weeks, 4-5 weeks and more than 5 weeks. We calculated the totals using a midpoint analysis, removing those who answered ‘don’t know’. The number of respondents ranged from 728-901.
This article was first published by our sister title Pulse