Four-week waits for GP appointment at record high, NHS figures show

About 50,000 people every day in 2023 had appointments that they had been forced to wait more than a month for, the data showed.This was up by 38 per cent on 2022, when 12.8 million appointments took place more than 28 days after booking – 3.9 per cent of the total – and up on the previous record of 15.2 million set in 2019.The NHS says it is delivering more GP appointments than ever and that some non-urgent appointments, such as vaccinations, are booked further in advance.But despite conducting more appointments in 2023 than any previous year, the fewest proportion of them were delivered on the same day since 2019, at just 43 per cent.Almost one in five patients were waiting for more than two weeks as 61 million patient appointments took place more than 14 days after being booked which was up by a fifth on 2022.A year of repeated strikesin 2023 Steve Barclay, then health secretary, said all non-urgent appointments should be delivered within two weeks and anything urgent should be on the same day a patient requested it.The NHS has had a year of repeated strikes by junior doctors, including some GPs. Surgeries also saw an influx of patients whose hospital appointments and procedures had been cancelled.Dennis Reed, director of the over-60s campaign group Silver Voices, said: “These are appalling and shameful statistics which reveal how the family doctor is fast becoming an endangered species.“Few medical conditions which are not routine check-ups can sustain a four-week wait without becoming more serious and costing the NHS more in the long term,“Primary care is disintegrating before our eyes and we will soon have GP deserts like the situation in NHS dentistry.”He called on political leaders to come up with a recovery plan “that doesn’t take the next decade to achieve” and to make a timely face-to-face appointment “a legal right”.In December 2023 two-thirds of appointments were in person, the lowest proportion of any month since August 2022. Overall in 2023 69 per cent of appointments were in person.Went to A&E insteadA recent study of remote GP appointments by the University of Oxford found that “deaths and serious harms” had occurred because of wrong or missed diagnoses and delayed referrals.Analysis of the national GP patient survey by the IPPR think tank found that one in eight people who could not get a doctor’s appointment went to A&E instead.Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the situation was “scandalous”.He said: “Patients across the country are in a desperate position. It has become commonplace to struggle day after day to get a GP appointment, leaving people in pain and discomfort.“It should be a given that people can see their GP when they need to.”The data covers all appointments carried out by GP staff including doctors, nurses and physician associates. The proportion of appointments carried out by a family doctor fell from 49 per cent in 2022 to 46.5 per cent in 2023.Dame Andrea Leadsom, the health minister for primary care, said the latest data showed the Government had “met our target of 50 million additional general practice appointments several months ahead of schedule”.She said the NHS workforce plan would “transform GP services nationwide” with 6,000 extra training places for GPs by 2031, while the Pharmacy First initiative, where pharmacists can diagnose and treat seven common conditions, would also free up slots.However, a report by the King’s Fund, published on Wednesday, called for a radical overhaul of GP services to stop the exodus of doctors.It found that successive governments had failed to deliver on promises to “bring care closer to home” over the past 30 years, with an ever larger proportion of NHS funding directed to hospitals instead of GPs.The report revealed that while the number of consultants working in hospitals had increased by 18 per cent since 2016-17, the number of GPs had grown by just 4 per cent, despite the record demand caused by an ageing population with more complex health needs.‘Government shouts at them’Beccy Baird, lead researcher and senior fellow at the King’s Fund, told The Telegraph: “We are training more GPs than ever but we’re not holding on to them.”She said working in the community came with more risk but lower pay and status.“There’s also a lack of support from the commissioning organisations [local NHS leaders]. A lot of their focus is on hospitals, and that’s because the Government shouts at them if their A&E waits are bad and their ambulances are waiting,” she said.“There’s also a misconception about what the public cares about. Most people are really worried about access to general practice and dentistry far more than anything else.”The report concluded that the lack of investment in GP services “must rank as one of the most significant and long-running failures of policy and implementation in the NHS and social care over the past 30 years”.Prof Kamila Hawthorne, head of the Royal College of GPs, said that a record number of appointments had been delivered in 2023, despite having “642 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs” than in 2019. There were 27,487 as of December.She said: “We urgently need to address the intense workload and workforce pressures GPs and our teams are working under, and which are the reasons many patients struggle to access our care. Arbitrary access targets that might make good soundbites are not the solution.”

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