The topic of GP appointment waiting times has been discussed for a long time, including how this can sometimes result in delayed treatments and consultations.
While virtual and phone appointments have risen since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the NHS appointment waiting times are seemingly still delayed, perhaps even more so with the pressure the NHS has faced in the past few years.
What Is a GP Surgery?
GP stands for General Practitioner, and this is also a doctor who works in preventative care in GP surgeries in the UK. A GP surgery is usually the first point of contact for your medical needs in the UK. Local doctors surgeries can provide treatment to acute and chronic illnesses, and will also refer patients to other NHS services where appropriate.
As of August 2022, there are currently around 36,752 qualified GPs working in the UK. The growth in GP doctors, in recent years, has stagnated. Similarly, there has also been a decline in GP surgeries being opened since 2016 in the UK. Consequently, two factors which are contributing towards the long waiting times for a GP surgery appointment in the UK.
How Long Does It Take to Get a GP Appointment?
Many GP’s have claimed that COVID-19 has reduced the number of appointments being made, suggesting that some people are hesitant about ‘clogging the system’ during a global pandemic, while others are fearful of being in an environment that could expose them to the aforementioned virus.
It has been recorded that 44% of people are struggling to get face-to-face appointments with their GP when they want, and nearly half of all people are waiting for hospital care beyond the 18-week standard. Consequently, people are not being able to access the treatment they need for serious diseases, illnesses and other conditions which, if untreated, may worsen.
Why Are GP Waiting Times Delayed?
How long you have to wait to register at a GP, as well as receive a specific appointment, will depend on where you live in the UK. Generally, factors such as COVID-19 and lack of funding have contributed towards a backlog in GPs. The lack of qualified GP doctors, as well as how many GP surgeries are currently open and operating in the UK, will also be factors impacting GP waiting times.
Find below why GP waiting times are particularly delayed today, following the pandemic:
Reduced Face-to-Face Appointment Puts Pressure on GPs
While GPs are capable of handling many issues over the phone or via video link, it may be that many of these initial consultations will require the patient to be seen in person, which replicates what could have been a single appointment in some cases. It was found that only 50% of GP appointments carried out during July 2020 were done face-to-face.
Some GPs Have Ended Online Bookings
Some GPs, following the pandemic, have completely got rid of any online booking system. As a result, this means GPs will only allow patients to call up for same-day appointments.
Despite the fact that not booking in advance can be an inconvenience to some, it also means there’s no guarantee you will be seen – particularly when everybody is asked to call the surgery at the same time.
Patient Demand Has Grown
We continue to see much-needed housing appear across the UK, but the additional pressure this places on local GP surgeries is often overlooked. Training new GPs is a costly and time-intensive task.
A 10-year study of more than 15,000 people in England, aged over 50, showed a 10% rise in the number of patients who have two or more long-term conditions. NHS England has suggested that this is currently the greatest challenge facing the NHS, a challenge mostly being managed by GPs.
What are the Implications of Extended GP Waiting Times?
Although disease such as cancer may be life-threatening, it is unlikely that waiting an additional period of a few weeks will see the disease worsen enough for the delay to affect either the treatment available or the patient’s prognosis. However, waiting a couple of months for a suspected cancer referral could possibly see it spread and change your prognosis from what it would have been, had GP referral wait times been shorter.
A GP will usually categorise a referral to a specialist as Urgent, Soon or Routine. Should a patient be referred wrongly as Routine, when they require an Urgent referral, and they suffer a deterioration in their condition as a result of the delay which this causes, this could be considered as negligent.
Pressure is growing on the government to take urgent steps to tackle waiting time figures for the almost five million people seeking hospital treatment in England - a number that has reached a record high. The NHS has been severely tested by COVID-19 and the workforce was stressed and exhausted. Restoring elective care to pre-pandemic levels and addressing the growing backlog of patients is likely to take years.