Rising numbers forced to take time off work to see a GP, poll finds

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph

Rising numbers of people are being forced to take time off work to see a GP, despite Government pledges to offer appointments 8am to 8pm, new polls suggest.

The Telegraph reports that ministers have promised to improve access to family doctors, with a target for all patients to be able to see GPs at evenings and weekends by 2019.

But the survey suggests the situation is deteriorating, amid a drop in the number of family doctors.

The survey of more than 1,000 people found 50 per cent said they had been forced to take time off work to take their children to the doctor – a rise from 41 per cent when polls were done the year before. And 42 per cent said they had lost work hours in order to make appointments for themselves – a rise from 34% in a year.

Rising numbers of patients said they were not offered an appointment outside working hours – with 37% stating this, while almost as many said they had to wait at least two weeks to see a GP.

The survey by Populus was commissioned by Doctaly, a private company which offers

patients a private same-day appointment with an NHS GP. The controversial service allows patients to skip queues to see a doctor in an NHS practice, by paying between £40 and £70 for an appointment.

The poll found 10% of those polled said they would be prepared to pay to see a doctor.

But those surveyed expresed unease about the idea of having online consultations, which are being increasingly piloted by the NHS, in a £45m scheme, as well as being offered privately.

The poll found 78% of consumers said they would rather see a GP face to face, while 68% feared “virtual” appointments were less safe than seeing doctor in person.

The Government has pledged to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020, to cope with growing shortages, but in the last year, numbers have fallen by almost 1200.

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We really sympathise with patients who are finding it increasingly difficult to secure a GP appointment – and GPs and our teams share their frustration.

“Unfortunately this is an inevitable knock-on effect of almost a decade of underinvestment in our service, and not enough GPs to meet growing demand.

“Wherever possible practices will try hard to offer patients appointments at a time that is convenient for them – including through offering evening and weekend appointments – but with the current workforce and resource pressures facing general practice, this is becoming more and more difficult. We will try to fit in as many patients as possible, but there becomes a point where it is just not safe,” she said.

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 Worsening access to GP surgeries

18.7% of patients said their surgery was not open at convenient times – a rise from 16% in 2012

18.1% of patients waited more than a week to see someone – a rise from 13.8% in three years

11% of patients said they had failed to get an appointment at all – up from 9.6% in 2012

10.8% said GP receptionists were “unhelpful” – a rise from 9.5% in 2012 25.8% said it was difficult to get through on the phone – a rise from 19.9% in 2012

Source: GP Patient Survey 2016

Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Despite NHS England’s big push to improve access to GPs, patients appear to be reporting a deterioration rather than an improvement.”

“Online forms of GP consultation clearly have a long way to go before patients enjoy widespread confidence in them, although they are clearly attractive to a minority of patients and appear to hold potential,” she added.

An NHS England spokesman said: “It’s no surprise that a private GP service is pushing the idea that paying for appointments is the way forward.

“The fact is that the national GP Patient Survey shows more than four out of five people are able to get an appointment at a convenient time while everyone in England will be able to book evening and weekend appointments by March 2019. We are also investing £45m to help practices offer online consultations – further boosting patient choice.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “We want the public to be able to access GP appointments at a time that suits them – that’s why we’re committed to ensuring that by March 2019 everyone will be able to access routine GP appointments at evenings and weekends, backed by additional funding rising to over £500 million by 2020/21. Through the GP Access Fund, 17 million patients have already benefitted from being able to access evening and weekend GP appointments.”

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