Can't get a GP appointment for weeks? Here's why

·4-min read
Young woman general practitioner in white lab coat and face mask standing in clinic, holding clipboard with medical records
In person appointments are now often replaced with phone and online chats. (Getty Images, posed by models)

After so long in lockdown, it's not surprising most of us have a few saved-up ailments alongside the new ones that we'd like to ask the doctor about.

But while we're now permitted to visit the surgery, in some areas, getting an appointment remains impossible. Although many surgeries now run a phone consultation service or online support, for many people, a face to face is necessary - and as the wait lengthens, the health problems can worsen.

Now, new research using comprehensive NHS data and a national survey has revealed just how long the typical wait is for a GP appointment in England. In most areas, it seems, patients are facing a delay of at least 7 days for an appointment, while one in ten have waited 15 days or more to see a GP according to research from medical negligence experts Boyes Turner Claims.

Watch: NHS backlog leaves GP surgeries struggling

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people living in London have the longest wait – with an average 13 days between requesting an appointment and it taking place. Astonishingly, according to the NHS data, one in twenty five people has been required to wait more than four weeks for a chance to discuss their problem in person.

Phone appointments are often the only option available to patients who want a consultation quickly. (Getty Images, posed by model)
Phone appointments are often the only option available to patients who want a consultation quickly. (Getty Images, posed by model)

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Half can’t get an appointment slot the first time they get in touch with their GP practice, and have to try again another day. Oddly, those with 'very urgent' requests wait 7.4 days to be seen, while those who say their need is 'quite urgent' tend to wait only 5.6 days.

Meanwhile, for Coronavirus-related problems, the average wait to even speak to a GP is 16 days. No wonder two thirds have found waiting times to be up to twice as long as they were pre-pandemic.

In response, one in twenty have headed straight to A&E, despite warnings to avoid clogging up the system with non-urgent problems, and 25% have Googled their condition and self-diagnosed.

Clearly, the long waiting times are resulting in further problems for the NHS - and potentially dangerous self-diagnosis for patients.

So what's been causing the back-log? Of course, lockdown meant a dramatic drop in people asking to see the GP, and a huge surge when consultations were permitted again - but confusion from both patients and GP practices in its wake has compounded the problem.

GP waiting times
GP waiting times across England - you're lucky if you live in the East.

In May this year, health officials told surgeries to stop the system known as 'total triage,' meaning anyone asking to see the GP must have a phone or online chat first, and NHS guidance recommended in-person GP visits resuming.

But seemingly, very little has changed, with only 56% of patients now seeing the GP face to face, a drop of 24% since pre-pandemic, as surgeries struggle to keep up with demand.

Brexit has also added to staffing difficulties as over the past two years, almost 5000 EU-trained nurses and midwives quit the NHS.

Older people may struggle to access online appointments, and are often hard of hearing, so many are abandoning plans to ask the GP's advice and either living with the problem or self-medicating.

Senior man surprised using a digital tablet while sitting on couch at home
Navigating online appointments can be hard for some older people. (Getty Images, posed by model)

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"We are worried that a lot of serious conditions are going undiagnosed," said Dennis Reed of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over 60s, "because so many people feel discouraged from seeing their GP, and don’t feel comfortable or able to have remote consultations.”

Caroline Abrahams, a Director at Age UK, added, "Remote consultations can work fine for many people, in many situations, but not for everyone and not for every health problem.

"Older people are typically stoical and worry about bothering their local practice, so it’s highly likely that when they say they need to see their GP it’s for a really good reason."

Waiting times in your area:

  • North West – 9.9 days

  • North East – 8.6 days

  • Yorkshire – 10.8 days

  • Midlands – 9.7 days

  • East of England – 7.4 days

  • South East – 12.3 days

  • South West – 9.9 days

  • London – 13 days

Watch: Warning over GP access as figures show only half of appointments are 'in person'

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