As Paul F pointed out on a previous post concerning hidden waiting lists for follow-up appointments in hospital:
“To put this in context 15m people is 25% – YES a quarter – of the UK population.
That is the state of the NHS – with a quarter of the population on a waiting list – and the government is keeping it secret.”
Now we have: half of patients struggling to book an appointment with GP
Kat Lay, Health Correspondent | Arthi Nachiappan www.thetimes.co.uk
More than half of people who have tried to book a GP appointment since coronavirus hit Britain have struggled, according to a poll.
The results from a YouGov survey for The Times showed that 53 per cent reported it had been harder to book a GP appointment, whether in person or over the phone.
Latest NHS figures on GP appointments show there were about 22.8 million in July, 85 per cent of the number during the same month last year.
Appointments have increased substantially from a slump at the height of the pandemic and many patients report satisfaction with GP services. Some 16 per cent of people in the poll said they had found it easier to book a GP appointment during the pandemic.
Patient advocates said, however, that they were concerned by persistent reports of people struggling to access care.
Paula Hooper, 66, said she had been forced to call paramedics after she was unable to arrange a home visit from her mother’s GP. Her mother, who has dementia, was moving in and out of consciousness and complaining of a pain in the back of her head. She said: “We don’t phone the GP willy-nilly. I think we just need a little bit more care locally.”
Linda Millband, head of clinical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors, said many claims dealt with by her practice in the past three months related to health conditions that worsened through patients not being able to get an appointment to see their GP, including cancer cases. “There will be serious issues as a result of this,” she said.
The pandemic has driven a rapid uptake of technology to enable remote consultation in primary care. In July last year 80 per cent of appointments were face-to-face, while this year the figure was 50 per cent.
Imelda Redmond, national director of Healthwatch England, said: “The feedback we have indicates remote consultations are working relatively well for patients who are able to access them but it’s concerning if significant numbers of people are still finding it difficult to make an appointment .”
John Kell, head of policy at the Patients Association, said that for patients where remote appointments were not suitable, GPs should be “making efforts to see them in a way that works for the patient, including face to face if necessary”.
In a letter sent out at the end of July, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “All GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments at surgeries as well as continuing to use remote triage and video, online and telephone consultation where appropriate, while considering those who are unable to access or engage with digital services.” Health teams should also work to expand the range of services to which patients could refer themselves, freeing up GP time, he said.
Although appointments appear to be below usual levels, GPs said their workload was higher. Senior figures at the British Medical Association have said that hospitals are pushing work back to community practices inappropriately, including requests to write prescriptions or arrange blood tests.
“General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic,” said Dr Jonathan Leach, honorary secretary for the Royal College of GPs. The college’s data showed that routine GP appointments were back to normal levels, and personal appointments were being facilitated “where necessary”.
“The pandemic isn’t over and we need to remain cautious,” he said. “We’re taking steps to ensure patients who need to come to the surgery are as safe as possible, but it is sensible to limit footfall where possible, in line with official guidance.” He said issues around shortages of GPs and lack of resources that had “understandably taken a back seat in the crisis” remained important.
An NHS spokesman said: “Although this poll is only a snapshot, it shows that of people who tried to book an appointment about the same number found it easier or saw no difference in how they accessed a GP appointment during Covid-19 — a remarkable achievement in the middle of a pandemic.”