Patients now face average waiting times of longer than two weeks to see a GP, according to a survey published today.
The figure is the estimated average waiting time faced by patients of some 900 doctors who took part in a survey. Some doctors said the rapid expansion of housing – and the building of new estates in practice areas – had contributed to problems.
GP leaders said there was little sign of the 5,000 increase in doctors in general practice promised in government plans.
In the survey by Pulse magazine, 58% of doctors said the average waiting time in their practice was more than two weeks. Some 22% said it was longer than three weeks and 6% said it was longer than four weeks.
The British Medical Association said there was some hope that the recruitment of 20,000 additional staff for primary care would relieve pressures. Its GP committee chair Richard Vautrey said: “Waiting times are a key indicator of the pressure on services and these latest figures highlight the reality of the capacity issues that many GP practices across the country are facing.
“Despite the best efforts of practices, patient demand is continuing to grow and with it the rise in the number of those with increasingly complex and chronic conditions where longer and multiple appointments are necessary.”
He added: “Whilst we are not seeing the much-needed rise in the number of GPs the Government has committed to deliver, the commitment secured as part of the GP contract negotiations in England for new funding to employ increased numbers of healthcare staff to work alongside GPs in their practices is a positive step forward and should help in tackling the challenges of catering to the growing needs of the population.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “People are waiting too long for routine appointments, and the concern is that non-serious conditions might deteriorate, or patient’s give up trying to see the GP and we miss signs of serious illness early when it could be dealt with simply and more cost-effectively in primary care.
“The College has long been raising the alarm about escalating resource and workforce pressures in general practice, and the negative impact this is having on our patients.
“GPs and our teams are making more consultations than ever before – more than a million a day across the UK – but as our population grows and more people present with multiple conditions, we desperately need more GPs and more time to give our patients the care they deserve.
“We have had some very welcome promises of investment in our service and more GPs and members of the practice team across the four nations of the UK – these must be delivered urgently and in full or waiting times will get worse, ultimately jeopardising the care we are able to deliver for patients.”