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Half of patients are forced to wait two days to see their GP with one in eight waiting a week
Only a third of patients see of speak to their GP on the phone on the day they call surgeryCritics brand statistics 'completely unsatisfactory'
06:55 GMT, 15 June 2012
Waiting game: Only a third of patients manage to see or speak to their doctor on the phone on the day they call the surgery, according to data
Half of patients have to wait longer than two days to see their GP, official figures show.
And more than one in eight is unable to get an appointment until the following week.
In fact only a third of patients manage either to see or speak to their doctor on the phone on the day they call the surgery, according to the Government’s own data.
Critics say the situation is ‘completely unsatisfactory’, pointing out that patients could be very seriously ill by the time they finally get an appointment.
In 2010 the Government controversially scrapped a target that everyone should be seen within 48 hours, claiming it was ‘too bureaucratic’.
But a poll of 855,000 patients suggests the move has led to longer waits for appointments.
Only 36 per cent of patients saw or spoke to their GP on the day they called, the latest GP Patient Survey reveals.
Another 14 per cent were seen or spoken to the next working day – meaning only half got through to their doctor within 48 hours. In contrast, when the same survey was carried out last year it found only one in five patients waited longer than 48 hours to see their doctor.
The Department of Health, which commissioned the poll, claims the results cannot be compared with previous years, however, as the questions are slightly different.
But Joyce Robins, of pressure group Patient Concern, said: ‘It’s very unsatisfactory that half of patients are waiting longer than two days. In my own practice we have only one doctor who works full time, the remaining three are part-time and only seem to be available for a few hours on certain afternoons. Many surgeries also employ locums who only work a few days a week.
‘The average practice has 12,000 patients on its books, so clearly there are just too few GPs. It means that if you happen to have something seriously wrong, you may well be severely ill by the time you see your GP.’
'If you happen to have something seriously wrong, you may well be severely ill by the time you see your GP.'
The 48-hour target was abolished in June 2010 by Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, who claimed it had no clinical justification. He said getting rid of the target culture would mean thousands of bureaucrats could be dispensed with, slashing millions from the NHS budget. Experts at the time warned that waiting times could go up as a result.
The survey also found that one in eight patients has no faith in their out-of-hours doctor.
Only 39 per cent trusted them completely, while another 43 per cent had confidence in them ‘to some extent’. Last week, separate figures from the NHS Information Centre revealed that nine in ten GP surgeries were letting patients down on their opening hours.
'Dignity': Andrew Lansley claimed the survey showed GPs continue to treat patients with 'the understanding and respect they deserve'
Some 7,822 practices – 93 per cent – were given scores of five out of ten or lower based on the experiences of patients. Yet ministers claimed that this latest survey showed most patients were satisfied with their GP.
It also showed that 88 per cent rated their surgery as ‘good’, with 93 per cent trusting their family doctor.
Mr Lansley said: ‘This is further evidence that large numbers of patients have a good experience of the NHS.
‘GPs are the first people most patients see, and this survey shows that they continue to treat patients with the understanding, dignity and respect they deserve.
‘But improvements can be made – more patients want to book their appointments online, but few are doing so.
‘We want GPs to look at this information to see what is most important to patients to help them make the improvements that patients really want to see.’
The Department of Health said not all patients wanted to see their GP within two days.