General practice faced growing dissatisfaction with waits for appointments before the virus crisis, according to a new analysis of patient views.
Patients rated services highly when they received them – but satisfaction had fallen when the annual NHS England survey was undertaken at the beginning of the year. Pollsters Ipsos MORI send surveys to some 2.3 million people for the survey – and 740,000 people took part.
The findings show that the proportion of patients rating their experience as good fell from 82.9% to 81.8% – while just 65.5% reported a good experience of making an appointment. This compared with 67.4% in 2019. 88.9% said receptionists were helpful, a small reduction of 0.4 percentage points in a year.
Ruth Rankine, director of the NHS Confederation primary care network group, said the switch to telemedicine during the pandemic might change patient views. She said: “As lockdown eases, it will be important for people to be able to access care in a way that meets their individual needs and recognises that for some, remote consultations will not be suitable. Working together as part of a PCN, practices will have the opportunity to offer greater flexibility in how people access a wider range of services.”
Dan Wellings, from think-tank the King’s Fund, said: “Whilst the overall experience is good once they are in, patients are finding it increasingly hard to access services. People’s overall experience of making an appointment with their GP has dropped significantly over the last few years. This year only 65% of people found it easy to reach their GP practice on the phone, down from 80% in 2012. These issues are likely to be exacerbated by the backlog of referrals and procedures that have built up during the COVID-19 pandemic. We need to have honest conversations with patients and the public about what they can realistically expect from the health service in the coming year as services struggle to meet demand.”
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The GP Patient Survey shows that 95% of patients had trust and confidence in the last GP or allied health professional they saw with 94% reporting that their needs were met in their last appointment. This is reassuring and a testament to the incredible jobs that GPs and their teams are doing under difficult circumstances. We’re also pleased to see that the vast majority of patients continue to report a good experience of their GP practice. However, we can’t ignore the fact that this figure has fallen slightly over recent years, and this demonstrates the intense resource and workforce pressures GPs and our teams have been working under for more than a decade.
“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the College worked hard to address the workforce pressures and ‘undoable’ workload in general practice, and the knock-on effects these were having on patient care. These issues have understandably taken a back seat during the crisis, but they are no less important and as we consider how the NHS will function post-pandemic, these need to start being addressed again. “