Patients 'facing longer GP waits', warns BMA

A close-up shot of a doctor writing a prescription The government originally expected half a million patients to be affected

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Longer waits to see a GP in the UK are "becoming the norm", the British Medical Association is warning.

BMA GP leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul said "chronic underfunding" meant patients were often having to wait one or two weeks for an appointment.

Some patients struggled to get an appointment, he said. Data from the GP patient survey in England shows one in 10 could not last time they tried.

The government said measures addressing the issue were already in place.

Dr Nagpaul will highlight the issue of funding coupled with rising demand in a speech at the BMA's annual conference on Wednesday.

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We hear daily from patients that they can't get appointments”

End Quote Katherine Murphy Patients Association

He will point out that annual consultations have risen by 40 million in England alone since 2008, hitting 340 million a year at the last count.

But he will tell delegates in Harrogate that the increase has come at a time when the amount spent on general practice as a share of the NHS budget has been falling.

Complex conditions

Figures from the Royal College of GPs show that in 2005-6 it stood at 10.7% of NHS spending, but by 2011-12 it had dropped to 8.4%.

Ahead of the speech Dr Nagpaul told the BBC: "Demand is outstripping supply. The patients we are seeing have more complex conditions and yet we still only have 10 minutes for each consultation - that is woefully inadequate.

"General practice is chronically under-funded and that is beginning to have an impact on the patient experience."

He added waits of "one or two weeks were becoming the norm" for patients, although he said those needing urgent appointments would always be seen quickly.

His warning was backed up by the Patients Association.

Its chief executive, Katherine Murphy, said: "We hear daily from patients that they can't get appointments. It's even worse for those who want a named doctor for continuity of care. They are having to wait two or three weeks. It is becoming a real issue.

"We need more investment in general practice, but I think we also need greater flexibility from doctors - it can no longer be a nine to five service."

The Department of Health said this was already happening via its £50m Challenge Fund.

'Not affordable'

More than 1,100 practices - one in eight of those in England - have signed up to the initiative to extend opening hours and make greater use of technologies such as Skype and e-mail.

A spokesman added the measures should make access "more convenient" for patients.

"People need to see a GP at a time to suit them," he said.

But Dr Beth McCarron-Nash, a GP based in Truro, said: "There is a drive towards convenience general practice, and actually we do need an open and honest debate with the public about what general practice is actually funded for.

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Young doctors are leaving the UK, they're deciding not to be GPs”

End Quote Dr Beth McCarron-Nash

"We're struggling to cope with providing the need, let alone the convenience of what I call the Martini practice - seven days a week, any time, any place, anywhere. That, unfortunately, is not affordable."

Dr McCarron-Nash also said many practices were failing to recruit doctors.

"Why would you want to be a partner when actually [there is] liability in owning a practice, employing the staff, all the extra work that actually comes with being an employer, along with the workload demands?

"Young doctors are leaving the UK, they're deciding not to be GPs."

Students give their reasons for favouring alternatives to general practice

Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said: "It is getting harder and harder to get a GP appointment under David Cameron's government.

"The lack of access to GPs is forcing many people to use much more expensive A&E departments.

"The next Labour government will invest £100m to help patients to get a GP appointment - either within 48 hours or a same-day consultation with a doctor or nurse for those who need it."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    Seen a lot of flak towards the immigrants.

    I have been here for 11 years, paid thousands in taxes, not claimed a single penny in benefits. Seen a GP here about 8 times during these years only to be given a Paracetamol. Once needed a specialist but was told to wait 3 months. Went to my home country and got treated.

    The NHS system is a failure and not the tax paying immigrants. STOP non-sense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    The problem is that access to your GP and almost all other NHS services is free, so as we become more paranoid about our health from media articles and increasingly believe that the doctor will have a pill to solve all our aches and pains and feeling down, we (the urban masses) increasingly go to the GP or A&E. Unless there is a cost to individuals for doing so the system will implode.

  • rate this

    Comment number 439.

    Growing population, too much administration in GP surgeries and a massive issue with DNA's are causing an issue in seeing GPs. in 2012-13 there where 12m missed appointments at GP surgeries and this is a major problem, personally and speaking to a few consultants at work, we feel that a DNA without good reason should incur a £10 charge, may make some think and cancel appointments if not needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 428.

    We have too many people living in the UK so of course the waits are longer now. We need more GPs, more surgeries, more opening hours, 24 hour on call doctors from home surgeries - and we won't have these unless the GMC stops restrictive practices and demarcation. It is the last 1970s style uinion left. And we HAVE to reduce our population by 20 million to stay a first-world country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 421.

    I have given up trying to get appointments at our surgery, normally 3 weeks before I can get an appointent (hardly ever go but when you think you are ill enough and need to see a doctor it should be next day worse case scenario), and you now have reception staff asking what is wrong with you (none of their business!) and determining if it might be urgent, absolutely rediculous!


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