GP appointment scandal as sick families left waiting a month to see a doctor

By Staff 9 Min Read

A new warning from the Royal College of GPs claims a fall in the number of family doctors has led to an unbearable workload, which is having a knock-on effect on patients

The number of patients waiting more than a month to see a GP has soared by up to 79% as stretched NHS family doctors struggle to cope.

All regions have been hit, shock figures from the Lib Dems found. The Royal College of GPs said a fall in the number of family doctors has led to an unbearable workload which is having a knock-on effect on patients. Despite a pre-election promise by the Tories to boost the number of practitioners by 6,000 in England, there are now 627 fewer fully qualified GPs, at 27,502.

Royal College of GPs Vice Chair Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown said: “GPs share our patients’ frustrations when they can’t access our care and services when they need to. We’re working really hard to ensure patients are receiving safe and timely care, and in February (the latest data available) 44% of appointments were delivered on the day they were booked – it’s also worth noting that many appointments that are made several weeks ahead are completely appropriate, for example for routine or review appointments.

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WARNING MENTIONS SUICIDE: Father-of-two Ronald Harris killed himself last June while waiting weeks for a GP appointment to discuss his mental health difficulties. At the inquest, coroner Mark Bricknell said Ronald’s wife had contacted Hereford Medical Group on April 24, 2023, about his mental health difficulties, as the symptoms got worse.

The family requested further help from the surgery on April 27, and were told to expect a call the following week. The inquest heard a routine appointment was offered, but would be four to six weeks later. Ronald, 69, committed suicide on June 5.

Mr Bricknell concluded that further deaths would occur unless action was taken. Hereford Medical Group said it was “carefully reviewing” the recommendations of the coroner’s report.

*If you’re struggling and need to talk, the Samaritans operate a free helpline open 24/7 on 116 123. Alternatively, you can email [email protected] or visit their site to find your local branch

“But we are worried that many patients report struggling to see their GP – and that they don’t have enough time with us when they do secure an appointment. The bottom line is that we don’t have enough GPs to keep up with the growing need for our care, and patients are feeling the impact most.

“The average number of patients per fully qualified GP continues to rise and is now a shocking 2,298, meaning each GP is, on average, responsible for 158 more patients than they were five years ago. Unmanageable and unsustainable workloads have become the new norm for GPs and our teams, and we can’t keep doing more with less.”

The Lib Dems compiled the NHS data from the House of Commons Library. Leader Ed Davey said: “These soaring GP waits show a grim ­postcode lottery, with communities being abandoned when it comes to local health services. Far too many people are being left in limbo, waiting for weeks on end to get a GP appointment when they need one.”

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Lukas Habsuda was left with little choice but to pay for a private GP consultation to get urgent medication. Lukas, from Kent, was told by his NHS surgery in Ashford that he would have to wait four days for a call back from a doctor when he had tonsillitis, despite struggling to eat.

He said: “I was in so much pain, so I decided to go for a private GP and I had antibiotics within 20 minutes. I was lucky – but I was a bit angry that I couldn’t get help from the NHS. It was awful. To just get a call back in four days’ time when you’re in pain is unbelievable.

“I really needed help, which I didn’t get from my GP. People are already being forced to go to the private sector too much. It’s the same with dentists and GPs are just going to be the next thing. It’s not good.”

Dr Tzortziou-Brown pointed out some patients make GP appointments several weeks ahead for health or treatment reviews. But most people who need more urgent care are waiting up to a month due to backlogs at surgeries. General practice is struggling with a huge increase in demand from an ageing population, and many delayed presenting with ailments during the pandemic.

Difficulties accessing GPs is also adding to pressures on A&Es as patients go there in desperation instead. Overall across England there was a 38% increase in waits of four weeks or more, with 18 million appointments in 2023 affected. The 79% biggest rise was in Vale of York, while in Rishi Sunak’s backyard of North Yorkshire, it was 56% – marking a blow for the PM’s claims he is protecting the NHS.

Only four in 10 appointments in general practice are now with a doctor. Many more patients are seeing professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and physiotherapists based in surgeries. The British Medical Association last Thursday announced GPs had voted to reject government changes to their payment contract – a “well below ­inflation” 1.9% baseline funding uplift, due to come into force yesterday.

It raises the prospect of family doctors going on strike. The Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are committed to improving access to GPs, and are delivering 50 million more GP appointments per year. Our Primary Care Recovery Plan, backed by £645million over two years, marks a major ­investment into primary care.”

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