GPs need more time with patients – but short appointments aren’t always inappropriate

Responding to analysis of GP consultation length by the Lib Dems, published today, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “GPs and our teams are working exceptionally hard in the face of intense workload and workforce pressures to ensure their patients receive safe, timely and appropriate care. Over the timeframe the Lib Dems have analysed, 345.8 million consultations were delivered in general practice and almost 40% lasted longer than 10 minutes – more than half, if you exclude those with an unknown length.

"Increasingly, GPs do need more time with patients, particularly if they have complex or multiple health problems. This is why the College has called for 15-minute GP appointments as standard, and longer for those who need it. However, this is not to say every patient will need this time as some simple conditions can be dealt with in less, particularly if it is not the GP they are seeing – for example, a simple blood test might only take a few minutes of a practice nurse’s time - so patients should not feel as though they are being 'rushed through' if they have a short appointment.

"But years of underfunding and inadequate workforce planning means that GPs and our teams are struggling to see all the patients who need our care and give them the time they need, especially when seeing 50 or more patients in a day, which many GPs report is a common occurrence. Imposing a legal requirement for all patients to be seen within a week would likely make this worse as it would force GP practices to reduce the length of each appointment to meet the target. There are simply not enough GPs or other members of the team to make it work - and not every patient will need or want to be seen within a week, or even two.

"Workload in general practice is escalating whilst GP numbers are falling - by 852 since 2019 - and patients are feeling the impact most. It is not too late to turn this dire situation around. The forthcoming primary care recovery plan and long-awaited NHS workforce plan will be key opportunities to do this. We hope these plans will contain the necessary resources to deliver what is needed to reverse public opinion.

"Ultimately, we need to see a bold new plan from the Government that goes beyond the target of 6,000 more GPs it pledged in its election manifesto, as well as significant investment in GP practices and IT systems to make it easier for patients to access care. Government must also take steps to cut bureaucracy so that GPs have more time to deliver care to the growing numbers of patients who need it, but the bottom line is that we need many more GPs.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 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.