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by Anviksha Patel
6 January 2020
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Increasing numbers of patients are waiting over three weeks to get a GP appointment, with 11 million having done so since Boris Johnson pledged to end the delays.
A total of 11.3 million patients have waited more than 21 days to see a GP since July, when Boris Johnson said in his first speech as prime minister that he would put a stop three-week waiting times.
According to an investigation by The Times, NHS Digital figures show that within the 11 million, 5.6 million patients waited over a month.
The figures also reveal October 2019 had the highest number on record of patients waiting more than 21 days for a GP appointment.
Over three million patients (3.3m) waited over 21 days in October – a 16% rise from the same time in 2018. Almost half of those (1.6m) waited more than four weeks.
GP leaders have warned this comes as GPs are leaving the profession, noting the ‘ever-increasing’ patient demand.
Both the BMA and the RCGP have urged the Government to deliver on their promises to hire 6,000 GPs given the increasing number of doctors leaving the profession.
Data from NHS Digital shows the proportion of patients getting a same-day GP appointment, or the next day or one within a week has declined since records began.
Additionally, the number of patients waiting over a week, two weeks, over three weeks or more than a month has increased.
Data shows one in 20 patients wait over a month for an appointment – two years ago it was one in 25.
‘Not enough capacity’
BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘These figures come amid a backdrop of falling GP numbers as, despite their best efforts, many practices simply do not have the capacity to meet the ever-increasing demand.’
He added: ‘While the creation of primary care networks should facilitate more patients being seen, we need more fundamental changes if we are to create a sustainable primary care service for patients in the long term.
‘Ultimately, this Government needs to tackle the root of the problem including stopping experienced family doctors leaving the profession or reducing their hours, tackling rising workloads, modernising premises and addressing the punitive pension regulations.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘It is totally unacceptable to expect patients to wait weeks for a GP appointment. Patients – and GPs – deserve better.
‘However, the situation in which we find ourselves has not happened overnight, and the College has been sounding the alarm bells for many years.’
He continued: ‘We hope that the new Government will take this seriously and that it will deliver quickly on its General Election manifesto pledge of 6,000 additional GPs and many more thousands of the wider general practice team.
‘Over 1 million patients are seen in general practice every day, and GPs are doing their best but the service cannot keep stretching. There are limits beyond which GPs can no longer guarantee safe care to patients and the potential for error or misdiagnosis increases.’