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Calls for workforce plan as a quarter of patients unable to get GP appointment

by Anna Colivicchi
1 February 2023

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New figures from the Office for National Statistics show that almost a quarter of patients were unable to get a GP appointment last month, as the RCGP called for bold plans to solve the workforce crisis.

New analysis published this week using data gathered between 22 November and 18 December last year, aimed at investigating how increases in the cost of living and difficulty accessing NHS services are impacting people’s lives during the autumn and winter months.

The report found that 23% of adults who needed to see a GP in the past month reported not being able to get an appointment and that people who experienced moderate-to-severe depressive symptoms (30%) were more likely to report this.

But the RCGP said that the stats reflect that the service is underfunded, as GPs are consistently delivering more consultations every month than they did before the pandemic.

The report said: ‘We asked respondents about their experiences with accessing a GP. Around 4 in 10 (37%) said they needed to make an appointment in the past month.

‘Of these adults, around a third (32%) reported it was easy, or very easy, to make an appointment, while over half (52%) reported it being difficult or very difficult.’

When asked about their experience in their last attempt to make a GP appointment, adults reported:

  • being offered only a telephone consultation when they wanted a face-to-face appointment (39%)
  • waiting too long for a GP appointment (37%)
  • difficulty contacting the GP practice (30%)
  • not being able to get an appointment (23%).

Adults on an NHS waiting list (17%) and disabled adults (16%) were also more likely to report not being able to get an appointment with the GP they wanted to see.

RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said the findings were a ‘result of years of under-funding in general practice and poor workforce planning.’

She said: ‘It’s as frustrating for GPs and our teams as our patients when they are unable to access our care and services in a safe, timely and appropriate way.

‘But this is not due to lack of trying on the part of GP teams, who are consistently delivering more consultations every month than before the pandemic and are doing so with falling numbers of fully-trained, full time equivalent GPs. It is a result of years of under-funding in general practice and poor workforce planning.

‘General practice is the foundation of the NHS with GPs and our teams delivering the vast majority of NHS patient care and in doing so alleviating pressures across the health service, including in emergency departments – but the service is struggling and as these statistics show, this is impacting on the care we’re able to deliver to patients.

‘This must be addressed as a matter of urgency with bold plans to build the GP workforce and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy to give us more time with our patients.’

She said that it was ‘really worrying’ to see the extent to how rising costs of food and energy are impacting on patients.

She added: ‘This will clearly have a knock on impact on their physical and mental health, and GPs are seeing this in our surgeries every day.

‘It’s vital that the Government ensures that patients, particularly our most vulnerable patients – the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, and those below the poverty line, especially families with children – whose health is most likely to be adversely affected, are protected against rising food prices and energy bills.’

The other main findings of the ONS report are:

  • Almost a quarter of adults (24%) reported they were occasionally, hardly ever, or never, able to keep comfortably warm
  • Around 1 in 7 (15%) adults were somewhat, or very, worried their food would run out before they had money to buy more
  • Around 1 in 5 adults reported eating smaller portions (18%) and food past its use by date (18%)
  • Over two thirds (70%) of those who ran out food in the past two weeks, and couldn’t afford to buy more, also reported being occasionally, hardly ever, or never, able to keep comfortably warm
  • Around 1 in 5 (21%) adults reported they were waiting for a hospital appointment, test, or to start receiving medical treatment through the NHS
  • Around 4 in 10 (39%) employed or self-employed adults who were waiting for NHS treatment reported that the wait had affected their work, including 26% saying they reduced their working hours and 7% went on long-term sick leave.

A version of this story was first published on our sister title Pulse.