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Prominent MP criticises ‘frustrating and ineffective’ GP appointment systems

by Léa Legraien
30 January 2019

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A former challenger for Labour leader has publicly criticised GP practices’ systems of allocating appointments to patients, calling them ‘frustrating and ineffective’.
In a series of posts, MP Owen Smith – who unsuccessfully challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership in 2016 – highlighted his own difficulties in securing a GP appointment through what he called the ‘telephone at 8.30am and try your luck’ system.
While this way of managing appointments may be effective for GPs, it does not work for patients, he argued.  
Writing on social media last week, Mr Smith said: ‘We have to get our GPs to change the systems they use to allocate appointments. It’s almost impossible to get an appointment with mine (they’d all sold out by 8.35am today) and I know that’s a situation experienced by millions in Britain. No wonder A&E fills up.’
In another post he said: ‘To all doctors on my timeline, in light of my pointing out how hard it is to get a GP appointment, I agree (a) nine years of cuts are part of the problem, (b) there aren’t enough GPs and (c) demand is spiralling.
‘But not all surgeries employ this “telephone at 8.30am and try your luck-style” of appointments system – but lots do in my patch. And though it may manage demand effectively for the GPs, it is both frustrating and ineffective for patients.’
In response, Clive Elliott business partner at Court Street Medical Practice in Shropshire said it is difficult to see how this could change ‘without a significant increase in the number of GPs’.
He said: ‘If Owen Smith wants to blame someone he can blame David Cameron for cutting the number of medical training places – which we are now seeing the results of.
‘Another example is Cameron’s wonderful extended hours – great in principle but we are not allowed to reserve those appointments for people who work during the day – guess what, they get taken by the same people who can come in the morning.’
Earlier this month, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock told Pulse some of the extra £4.5bn funding for primary and community care will be used to relieve pressure on GPs, however details on this are still lacking.
Sheinaz Stansfield, practice manager at Oxford Terrace and Rawling Road Medical Group in Gateshead said: ‘The issue isn’t as easy as changing the appointment system. Socio-economic and demographic issues, coupled with the reduction of resource to general practice and the workforce crisis in both general practitioners and nurses are all causing a “perfect storm”, impacting access to general practice.
‘We have to work together as a health and wellbeing system to manage this systematic issue, not apportion blame for things that are not in our control.’
 A survey by our sister publication Pulse in May found one in six GPs have resorted to stopping routine bookings and limiting appointments to ‘emergency’ patients only, due to increasing pressure.
A version of this story was published on our sister publication Pulse.