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Waits for GP appointments a ‘national concern’, say RCGP

28 July 2017

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Figures from the Royal College of GPs show that patients in England will have to wait more than a week for a GP appointment on more than 100 million occasions in just five years’ time.

The data, estimated by the College based on current trends, show that the number of instances when patients will need to wait a week or more to see a GP will increase by over 20 million over the next five years. This is an increase of more than a quarter, from 80 million instances this year to 102 million by 2022.

A ‘genuine risk to patient safety’

Currently over 5 million patients wait at least a week for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse more than 25% of the time. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, says this is a threat to care: ‘Patients should be able to see a GP when they need to, so we’re highly concerned that patients are finding it so difficult to make an appointment, and that in so many cases they have had to wait more than a week to see a GP. This is a clear risk to patient safety – and if nothing is done soon, it is clear that this is set to get worse.’

The RCGP say these increasing waiting times will have ramifications for other areas of the NHS. ‘If these patients can’t secure an appointment with their GP when they need one, it’s probable that they will return at some point to another area of the NHS, when their condition may have worsened, and where their care will cost the health service significantly more – something which could’ve been avoided if they’d been able their GP in the first instance.’

General practice is seeing an increasing number of patients (currently 370 million each year), but facing intense resource and workforce pressures.

Postcode lottery

Analysis of the GP Patient Surveyshows that the ability to get a GP appointment is dependent on location, with patients in some areas experiencing much worse GP access than others.

In some areas, including Swindon, Corby in the East Midlands and parts of Central London, a third of patients wait for a week or more for an appointment. Even in the best served areas (such as Bradford), still more than one in 10 patients wait a week for an appointment.

The RCGP say the escalating wait times are a result of lack of funding. General practice workload as risen by more than 15% in under 10 years, yet investment has decreased, as has the number of doctors wanting to work as GPs.

Although a similar warning was raised last year, little has been done. The College requests that the Government makes good on the promises made in the General Practice Forward View, including an extra £2.4 billion each year and 5,000 more GPs. ‘The GP Forward View could be the lifeline general practice, and our patients, need.

But we need it delivered, in full, and as a matter of urgency, if it is to have a chance at protecting our profession, the wider NHS, and ensuring our patients receive the care they need and deserve,’ closes Stokes-Lampard.