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Next government must end ‘totally unacceptable’ waiting times for GP appointments, says RCGP

Britain’s top GP is urging the next government to end the ‘untenable and totally unacceptable’ long waiting times that patients are facing for GP appointments.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, is concerned that with the General Election only weeks away, political parties will include ‘vote winning’ access targets in their manifestos, without any commitment or plans for boosting the GP numbers that are necessary to deliver them.

Her call comes as latest figures highlight the unsustainable pressure on general practice, with buckling GP practices delivering more and more appointments, yet with fewer doctors.

GPs and their teams delivered 30.3 million appointments in April 2024 – nearly 6 million (25%) more than April 2019 – with approximately 880 fewer fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs than five years ago.

While 45% of appointments were delivered on the day they were booked, GPs are concerned that significant numbers of patients are still facing unacceptably long waits for an appointment – with over 1.6 million patients waiting over a month. For some patients this will be appropriate, for example with routine or regular check-ups, but for many this will be a source of real worry and concern.

The College points to rapidly rising workloads, increasing complexity of workload and stagnant Full Time Equivalent (FTE) workforce numbers as the underlying causes of patients’ struggle to access timely care.

NHS workforce data shows the average number of patients per fully qualified GP continues to rise and is now 2,294 – meaning each GP is, on average, responsible for 154 more patients than there were five years ago.

This is reflected in latest research from the Office of National Statistics on NHS satisfaction rates showing that 33% of patients found it difficult or very difficult to contact their GP practice.

Professor Hawthorne said: “Everyone should be able to see a GP when they need to but too many patients are facing untenable and totally unacceptable waits and it’s our hard-pressed GPs and their teams who are taking the blame. The truth is that GPs are working harder than ever but general practice is at breaking point.

“GPs are as worried and frustrated as their patients when it becomes impossible to get an appointment when needed. With general election campaigning under way, all political parties need to be prioritising real investment in general practice to fix this crisis.

“Decades of failure in funding and workforce planning for general practice have pushed us to tipping point. Neither GPs nor patients want to see long waiting times for care. Sometimes it is helpful and appropriate to book in advance, but we know how frustrating it is when patients want to see their GP and can’t get the appointment they need.

“Without immediate action, the future of general practice is at risk. For whoever forms the next government this must be a ‘day one’ issue. The voting public wants to know what the winning party is going to do to ensure they can access safe, timely appropriate care from their local practice. Its every bit as important as the long waiting times for hospital appointments, and if general practice fails, the whole NHS will fail.

“We don’t need gimmicky, unrealistic targets that might sound good on a paper and might win votes but will never work without enough GPs to deliver them. We need significant investment and further efforts to increase the GP workforce, especially in encouraging the brilliant GPs we already have, to remain in the profession or this situation will only get worse.

“Our manifesto outlines seven solutions that, regardless of the election outcome, we are calling for the next government to implement– including funding for recruitment and retention. It is a ‘rescue package’ to save general practice and safeguard its future so that the job of being a GP becomes manageable again and our patients can receive the care they so desperately need and deserve.

“In the run-up to polling day on 4 July, we urge all the political parties to read and take heed of what we’re telling them.”

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