Patients across England face waiting longer than a week for a GP or practice nurse appointment on more than 100m occasions by 2022, is the stark warning from the Royal College of GPs.
The College’s new figures reveal that if current trends continue, the number of instances when patients will have to wait a week or more to see a GP will rise more than 20m over five years, from 80m in 2016/2017 to 102m in 2021/22.
Further analysis by the College, of the GP Patient Survey, published earlier this month, shows that the situation across England is also patchy, with patients in some areas facing much worse GP access than others.
In 21 Clinical Commissioning Group areas, covering 5.6m patients, patients wait at least a week for an appointment with their GP or practice nurse more than a quarter of the time.
Some of the worst areas to secure a timely GP appointment include Corby (36%), Fareham and Gosport (34%), Swindon (31%) and Central London (Westminster) (31%) where currently over three in 10 of patients wait a week or more for an appointment with their family doctor or practice nurse.
Even at the other end of the scale, where access is better, there are still thousands of patients waiting a week or more for an appointment. In Bradford City, for example, where access to general practice is best (nine per cent), there is still one in ten patients waiting.
The RCGP says that this as a case of national concern and if the situation does not improve it is a genuine risk to patient safety.
Workload in general practice has risen 16% over the last seven years according to recent research, yet investment in the service has declined over the same period, and the GP workforce has gone down since last year.
NHS England’s GP Forward View, launched in April last year, made over 100 pledges, including an extra £2.4bn each year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more members of the wider practice team – but the College is concerned that this is not being delivered as quickly as GPs, and patients, need them.
The College is calling on the government once again to deliver on the pledges made in NHS England’s GP Forward View as a matter of urgency, to ensure that patients get the timely, quality care they need, when they need it.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Our patients should be able to see a GP when they need to, so we’re highly concerned that patients are finding it so difficult to make an appointment, and that in so many cases they have had to wait more than a week to see a GP. This is a clear risk to patient safety – and if nothing is done soon, it is clear that this is set to get worse.
“If these patients can’t secure an appointment with their GP when they need one, it’s probable that they will return at some point to another area of the NHS, when their condition may have worsened, and where their care will cost the health service significantly more – something which could’ve been avoided if they’d been able their GP in the first instance.
“GPs and our teams are now making more patient consultations than ever before – over 370m each year – and with workload continuing to escalate, and with continuing resource and workforce pressures, the worrying outcome is that we will be unable to see all our patients who need to be seen.
“The GP Forward View could be the lifeline general practice, and our patients, need. But we need it delivered, in full, and as a matter of urgency, if it is to have a chance at protecting our profession, the wider NHS, and ensuring our patients receive the care they need and deserve.”