BMA head, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, has warned that waiting times to see a GP are longer than ever before. According to Dr Nagpaul, “chronic underfunding” has left many patients waiting for as long as two weeks for an appointment and one in ten failed to secure an appointment when they last tried. Nearly six million patients went to their local A & E department hospital in 2012-13 following problems in fixing a convenient time to see their GP.
The Government has assured the public that measures to deal with the issue were already in place. Despite this, Dr Nagpaul has said that the combination of underfunding and a rising level of demand for appointments means that GPs often struggle to see all their patients promptly.
From 2005-6 to 2011-12, the percentage of NHS spending on GPs dropped from 10.7% to 8.4%.
This is especially problematic for patients with serious conditions who often only receive a ten minute consultation. This is “woefully inadequate” says Dr Nagpaul, with “demand outstripping supply”.
An eighth of GP practices in England have agreed to sign up for a scheme that will not only extend opening hours - which should allow for patients to be seen more easily - but will also use Skype or email for patients with less serious conditions. While this scheme is said to be a good idea, critics say it is simply not affordable to do it everywhere and for GPs to provide constant availability all day. This demand can also put strain on GPs who have to work much longer hours. Many young doctors are leaving the UK, which further aggravates the problem.
Patients with minor health issues can face extremely long waiting times as patients with more serious issues take priority. Patients who want to see the same doctor for continuity of care face the longest wait of all, often of two to three weeks. These waits, coupled with the underfunding of GPs, means that many people feel the standard of care is dropping.
Emily Palmer, clinical negligence associate at Penningtons Manches commented: “There is no simple solution to this increased demand. While we hope that part of the solution will be the use modern technology methods such as Skype and emails, these themselves pose difficulties in terms of resourcing and quality of care.”