34m patients will fail to get appointment with a GP in 2014

Publication date: 23 February 2014

More than 34m patients in England will this year fail to get an appointment with their GP, when seeking treatment, because of the slump in the funding of general practice over the last decade, and rapidly growing demand.

The huge number of patients who will fail to secure a consultation with a GP or a practice nurse, this year, comes despite the fact that general practice now sees 40m more patients annually than was the case in 2008/09.

The startling prediction for the number of patients who will fail to secure an appointment is based on an analysis by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), of the latest GP Patient Survey, published in December, revealing that 10% of patients who sought a consultation with a GP or a practice nurse in 2012/13, failed to get one.

The RCGP says that the number of patients failing to see a GP at all will continue to increase – due to the ongoing cuts in funding for general practice, allied to rapidly growing demand, with general practice now seeing 340m patients per year.

In 2005/06, 10.95% of the NHS budget in England was spent on general practice. However, by 2011/12, just 8.5% of the NHS budget in England was spent on general practice – with a cumulative loss £9.1bn since 2004/05 in real terms.

Despite this, general practice has increased efficiency, to such an extent, that an estimated 40m additional patients per year are being treated by family doctors and practice nurses than was the case in 2008/09.

The slump in funding, along with a growing and ageing population, where increasing numbers of patients have multiple conditions, has had a massive impact on the ability of general practice to cope with the huge upswing in demand.

The College estimates that the average number of consultations carried out by each GP in England per year has increased by 1,450 since 2008 from 9,264 to 10,714.

The College also believes that each GP practice in England dealt with 4,384 more consultations per year in 2011/12 compared to 2004/05.

Between 2008/09 and 2011/12, the total number of consultations in general practice – including visits to both GPs and practice nurses – is estimated to have risen from 300.4m to 340m.

The College’s assessment of how many patients will fail to secure an appointment this year is based on the figures contained in the latest GP Patient Survey, published in December. They survey asked patients whether they were able to get an appointment to see or speak to someone in general practice.

The responses showed an increase in the number of patients failing to secure an appointment at all from 9% of patients, in the version of the survey published in June 2012, to 10% in the latest report – equivalent to an increase of 3.4m patients annually.

In response to the funding crisis in general practice, the College and the National Association for Patient Participation (N.A.P.P.) have launched a campaign called Put patients first: Back general practice, which is calling on the Government and NHS England to ensure that 11% of the NHS budget is invested in general practice by 2017.

RCGP Chair Dr Maureen Baker said:

"The unprecedented decline in funding for healthcare in the community has brought general practice to its knees.

“GPs and practice nurses want to provide high-quality care for every single patient who seeks a consultation, and over the last decade we have increased the number of patients we see each year in England by 40m.

“However, GPs and practice nurses can’t keep doing more for less and now that funding for general practice in England has slumped to just 8.5% of the NHS budget the service we provide is in crisis.

“All three political parties say they want to see more patients being treated in the community, where care can be provided to patients more economically, in their own surroundings, and yet resources are increasingly being diverted away from communities and into hospitals.

“By continually diverting resources into hospitals, we have fuelled a real and growing crisis in general practice.”

She added:

“If the Government and NHS England really want to give general practice the tools to provide high-quality and comprehensive care in the community they must increase funding for the sector to 11% of the NHS budget by 2017.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659
press@rcgp.org.uk

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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