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Underinvestment and GP shortages bumping up week-long waits to over 50m

RCGP analysis based on previous trends and responses to GP Patient Survey

Caroline White

Monday, 28 July 2014

The number of times patients in England will have to wait more than a week to see a GP or practice nurse is set to rise to at least 51.3 million next year, the Royal College of GPs predicts.

The College blames the lack of investment in general practice and a shortage of GPs, which have left general practices overstretched and unable to cope with rising demand.

In 2013, waits of more than a week for an appointment occurred on 41.9 million occasions and on 46 million occasions in 2014, says the College.

If current trends continue, the College predicts that the total number of occasions when patients will have to wait more than a week to see a GP will rise to at least 58.2 million in 2016.

The calculations,  which are based on an analysis of responses to the GP Patient Survey, issued earlier this month, found that the problem of rapidly growing numbers of patients reporting they are having problems securing an appointment is particularly bad in a string of major urban areas.

These include London, Manchester, West Yorkshire (Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and Wakefield) and Merseyside.

If current trends continue, then next year, patients in London will be unable to see or speak to a GP or nurse when they want to on 10.4m occasions— up from 9.3m occasions in 2014.

Patients in Birmingham and the Black Country will be unable to see or speak to a GP or nurse on 3.2 m occasions (up from 2.9m in 2014), while those in Greater Manchester, will be thwarted on 3.1m occasions (up from 2.8m in 2014).

Surgeries are struggling to meet rising demand for appointments due to a deficit in the number of GPs, says the College, which estimates that 8,000 more family doctors are now needed in England to cope with the nation’s growing and ageing population.

The total number of consultations in general practice is predicted to increase from 372.5m 2014-15 to 384.3m in 2015-16, according to recent research carried out by Deloitte.

“The fact that patients in England will be unable to see their GP when they want to on more than 50 million occasions in 2015 is a truly shocking indictment of the crisis that is enveloping general practice,” commented RCGP Honorary Treasurer, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard.

“No GP wants to turn away a single patient – but surgeries are being faced with no choice because they don’t have the resources to cope with the increasing number of older people who need complex care, whilst also meeting the needs of families and people of working age,” she said.

She added: “The profession has been brought to its knees both by a chronic slump in investment and the fact that there are now simply not enough family doctors to go around.”

And she warned: “Whilst some of these patients will try calling the practice another time to get an appointment, this isn’t good enough – many will either end up in hospital or, worse still, will not seek medical treatment at all.”

She said the government had to stump up more money for general practice to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017 and recruit 8,000 more family doctors as a matter of urgency.

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