GP Appointment Waiting TimesPublished on: 11 March 2019
I recently tried to make an appointment with my GP surgery, concerning a problem I have had for a few weeks. It is uncomfortable, but not urgent. I went online to register to make an appointment, but you are required to register for online access in the surgery! I duly went to the surgery to obtain the required form, and, whilst there, make an appointment. I was told that if the appointment was not urgent they had no appointments currently available. Ring tomorrow morning and they will be releasing appointments for four weeks’ time!
I rang next morning and after waiting ages to get through was told at 8.52am that the appointments for four weeks’ time had already gone!
Feeling cross and a bit frustrated, I decided to see if this was a national problem.
The BBC has carried out an analysis looking at the difference in the availability of appointments in GP surgeries across the UK. They found that in one area, Swale in Kent, there is only one GP for every 3,300 patients, while in Rushcliffe in Nottinghamshire it is just under 1 for every 1,200, a threefold difference. The average GP's caseload is 1,734.
The Chairwoman of The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard said that the ten year NHS plan recently announced by the government did not address the current urgent problems. The numbers suggested there were areas of the country that were struggling to get the GPS they need and thus a greater delay in allocating appointments.
Dr Stokes-Lampard said she believed the health service in England is 6,000 doctors short of what it needs, meaning that it was 'not safe' in some places.
There are no official recommendations for how many patients a GP should have. Surely this needs to change? It is also not just a simple matter of numbers, as it also depends on the 'type’ of patient. For example older patients, children and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes statistically take up more time.
Measures are being taken to tackle the problem, such as opening up more training places. The RCGP would like more incentives to encourage GPs to work in unpopular areas or those perceived to be more difficult.
Have waits for GP appointments got longer?
NHS Digital published figures showing that while 40% of patients were seen on the day they booked, just under a fifth waited longer than a fortnight for a routine appointment with a GP or practice nurse. As well as my own experience, this is born out by conversations with friends and colleagues, who report that unless they state the problem is urgent a two-three week wait is common.
This delay could have a serious effect as patients do not always know the significance of their symptoms i.e. if they are serious or not. There is a risk that longer waits may be causing harm as well as the stress of living with symptoms, the cause of which may be unknown.
How is this affecting Shropshire?
NHS Digital reports that over 20,000 people in Shropshire are waiting three weeks or more to see a GP. The waiting times have worsened in comparison with November 2017. However two out of five patients were able to see a GP the same day.
Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, a charity supporting the rights and experiences of patients, said, ' it was a symptom of an NHS running at boiling point all year round.'
As for me, I went to my GP again in person and manged to get a cancellation in three weeks’ time. Let’s hope it’s nothing serious!