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GP appointments in Britain are among the shortest in Europe

by Valeria Fiore
9 November 2017

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GP consultation lengths in the UK are among the shortest in Europe, a study by Cambridge University and published in the BMJ Open has revealed.

The study, called International variations in primary care physician consultation time: a systematic review of 67 countries covered more than 28.5 million consultations showing that GP appointments last less than five minutes for half of the world population, ranging from 48 seconds in Bangladesh to 22.5 minutes in Sweden.  

The average length of a GP appointment in the UK is 10 minutes and it is increasing by 4 seconds per year, according to the study.

The researchers said: ‘Little can be achieved in less than 5 minutes unless the focus is largely on the detection and management of gross disease.’

A short consultation time could result in physicians feeling less ‘productive and competent’ because of the greater difficulty to manage patients with one or more than one chronic illness in such a short time.

‘Most GPs spend longer than 10 minutes with a patient. This is why most are running late by the end of a surgery,’ said Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson.

‘There is no doubt that it is a tall order to greet the patients, discuss why they have come, full history, relevant examination and prescribe, refer, admit or advise and then write up all your records. It cannot be done in 10 minutes,’ he said.

For this reason, the BMA had previously called for GP appointments to be lengthened to 15 minutes.  

‘An appointment of 15 minutes is more realistic and would allow you to cover more ground but if I cut down the number of patients I see in a day by one quarter, the waiting times will get longer,’ said Dr Watson.

Will offering longer appointments mean offering fewer appointments?

Responding to the BMJ Open study, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘The time GPs have to spend with our patients is precious, and the more time we are able to spend with them, the better patient-centred care we are able to provide.

‘But offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments, and our latest analysis of the independent GP Patient Survey found patients will already be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 100m occasions by 2020.’