Millions facing postcode lottery over GP appointments

Publication date: 01 June 2014

Millions of patients across England are facing a postcode lottery when trying to book an appointment with their local GP, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warns today.

Up to four times as many people are reporting that they cannot get an appointment at their local surgery in places where access to a GP is worst, compared to the best performing areas.

Almost a quarter (22%) of people in Bradford raised concerns about not being able to make an appointment with their GP when they needed to, compared to just 5% in Bath and North East Somerset.

People living in areas with the lowest number of full time equivalent (FTE) GPs per 100,000 patients are most likely to say that they cannot get an appointment when they need one.

Additionally, the figures reveal shocking discrepancies in the number of GPs employed locally. In North, East and West Devon there are over 60 full time equivalent (FTE) GPs per 100,000 patients, whereas in Slough the equivalent number is just 22 FTEs.

The RCGP analysis, based on the GP Patient Survey, also highlights that those patients who experience the most difficulty in getting to see a GP tend to live in the most deprived areas. Eight of out of ten areas with the longest waiting times for a GP appointment had moderate to high levels of deprivation

The College today warned how this was further evidence of a crisis in general practice, with the profession creaking under the weight of a growing and ageing population. This has led to increasing numbers of patients suffering from multiple conditions, and soaring demands for appointments – however funding for general practice has dropped to an historic low, to just 8.5% of the total NHS budget in England.

Without the vital funding that the profession so desperately needs, the situation for patients is only set to get worse, leaving GPs unable to deliver the level of care which patients need and deserve. 34 million requests for GP consultations will not be met this year at all due to growing demand against constantly declining resources.

In response to the funding crisis, the RCGP 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 four governments of the UK to ensure that general practice is given 11% of the NHS budget by 2017.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP said:

"Every single patient should be able to see their GP when they are in need of medical assistance, regardless of where they live.

“It is absolutely shocking that, due to the current funding crisis in general practice, patients are now facing a postcode lottery.

“It is doubly unacceptable that those patients affected tend to be those who live in deprived parts of the country.

“Family doctors are working harder than ever – but with increasing patient demand, due to a growing and ageing population, and plummeting investment, there simply aren’t enough GPs to go round.

“There is now a desperate shortage of GPs in many parts of the country, leaving the service teetering on the brink of collapse.

She added:

“Over the last decade, investment in general practice has slumped and has now reached an all-time low, with GPs conducting 90% of NHS patient contacts for just 8.5% of the total NHS budget.

“GPs want to provide high-quality care for every single patient, but at a time of plummeting resources we are seeing 40m more patients a year than just five years ago.

“The simple fact is that family doctors are now heaving under unsustainable workloads, with the majority now routinely conducting 60 patient consultations in a single day.

“To ensure patients across England can get the level of service they deserve we urgently need to recruit at least 10,000 more GPs. This increase would have to be underpinned by an increase in funding of general practice to 11% of the total NHS budget.”

Dr Patricia Wilkie, President and Chair of the National Association of Patient Participation (N.A.P.P.) said:

“Patients across the country are frequently unable to obtain a timely appointment with a GP, because there simply aren't enough GPs in some local areas.

"This postcode lottery is totally inappropriate with clear and potentially serious implications for patients.

"It is clear that the root of the problem is a shortage of GPs and the lack of funding for general practice. Without appropriate funding for general practice the situation for patients will only deteriorate.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7581
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

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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