Parents are taking children to A&E as getting a GP appointment is 'too difficult', survey finds

Lizzie Roberts
Parents are increasingly taking their children to A&E as getting a doctors appointment is too hard. - PA

Parents of toddlers are increasingly taking their children to A&E, as they say securing a GP appointment is too difficult, research suggests.

The national survey found more than half of Britons find it hard to see their GP, with the worst results among parents over under fives.

The findings follow a number of high profile cases in recent years, where young children have died from serious diseases, such as sepsis, after symptoms were missed. 

For the first time ever, the British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey has been used to conduct large-scale research into public attitudes towards emergency care.

Around 3,000 people were questioned for the 2019 report, from the 2018 BSA, which was carried out by the National Centre for Social Research and commissioned by the University of Sheffield. 

The study asked individuals about their opinions on access to GP services, demands on A&E and the use of digital services within the NHS.

In total, 65 per cent of parents with children under five who were surveyed agreed it is difficult to get an appointment with their GP. And 51 per cent all those who took part in the study also complained it’s too difficult to get an appointment.

Among all adults, 11 percent of the total surveyed said they did not have much confidence in their GP. This rose to 20 percent among parents with toddlers.

Data from NHS England shows between 2008-2009 and 2017-2018 the number of under fives attending A&E almost doubled, from 1,280,615 to 2,110,411.  As a proportion of the population this relates to 10.1 percent of the age group - a rise of 0.4 percent from 2008/09.

In May this year the Royal College of Nursing urged the NHS to introduce an early warning system to check for deadly signs of sepsis, after it warned cases were missed.

In 2014, 12-month-old William Mead died of sepsis after his GP failed to recognise symptoms, or record the right information or give his parents the right information about what to do if the child deteriorated. When his parents called 111, call handlers also failed to spot key signs. 

In 2010, three year old Sam Morrish died of septic shock after his GP missed signs of an infection. 

It comes amid concern about increasing waiting times to see a GP, with Boris Johnson pledging to bring an end to three week waits. 

The BSA report also found 72 percent of parents with children under five said they would use the internet to try and diagnose a non-life threatening health issue. 

William Mead died of sepsis after non-emergency call handlers were unable to diagnosis his condition. Credit: PA/PA

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the report highlights “more public education is needed” when it comes to getting medical help.

But without “significant investment” into their profession they are unable to make improvements to the service, she said.

“As NHS GPs, we desperately want to be able to provide the necessary levels of high-quality care that our patients expect - and deserve – and which in turn will help ease pressure on other healthcare services,” Prof. Stokes-Lampard said. 

“But as patient numbers rise, and health conditions become more complex, we are under more pressure than ever and are significantly understaffed so improvements simply cannot be achieved without significant investment into our profession.”

Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the health think tank Nuffield Trust, said: “There’s no doubt that access to general practice has been deteriorating with the first sustained fall in the number of GPs per person for 50 years.

“Boris Johnson has made GP waits a top priority but we need to know in detail, given the dire GP workforce shortages, how this is realistically going to be turned around.”