News, Culture & Society

England’s GP crisis laid bare: A QUARTER of sick Britons have not seen a doctor in a year

One in four sick Britons have not seen a doctor in a year because they can’t get a GP appointment, stark official figures suggest.

That number has more than doubled in 12 months, with critics describing the lack of access as a ‘ticking time bomb’ that will lead to vital diagnoses being missed.

A survey of 700,000 people with long-term health conditions in England found patient satisfaction and trust in general practice has fallen across the board.

More than half of patients (55 per cent) who needed an appointment in the 12 months to April failed to secure one, up from 42 per cent the previous year.

The main reason for a quarter of patients was that it was too difficult to book one, while a fifth said they did not want to burden the NHS. 

Patients struggled to see a GP for check-ups, treatment and drug reviews during the pandemic as surgeries switched the majority of consults to phone and video.

Practices are now seeing record demand as those who could not get care or put it off start to pour back into the NHS.

Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader Daisy Cooper MP said the ‘stark’ figures show patients are being ‘catastrophically let down’. 

Overall, the survey found 72 per cent of patients they had a good experience with their GP in the past year — even lower than at the worst points in the pandemic. For comparison, patient satisfaction was at 83 per cent this time last year and 82 per cent in 2020. But there were big regional differences in the latest poll, with just six in 10 patients in parts of the Midlands happy with the care they received

More than half of patients (55 per cent) who needed an appointment in the 12 months to April failed to secure one, up from 42 per cent the previous year. The main reason for a quarter of patients was that it was too difficult to book one, while a fifth said they did not want to burden the NHS

More than half of patients (55 per cent) who needed an appointment in the 12 months to April failed to secure one, up from 42 per cent the previous year. The main reason for a quarter of patients was that it was too difficult to book one, while a fifth said they did not want to burden the NHS

Patient satisfaction and trust in general practice has fallen across the board, amid staffing shortages, a move to virtual appointments and increased demand

Patient satisfaction and trust in general practice has fallen across the board, amid staffing shortages, a move to virtual appointments and increased demand

IS NHS HEADED FOR WORST SUMMER EVER? 

The NHS is on track to have its busiest summer on record with deadly consequences for patients as it battles a fresh surge of Covid, hot weather and a wave of staff absences, latest official data shows.

Heart attack patients waited more than 50 minutes for an ambulance on average in England last month — nearly triple the NHS target — and more than 22,000 Britons queued for 12-plus hours in A&E before being seen.

Callouts to the most urgent cases have also risen by a third in recent months, with the average patient with a life-threatening emergency now waiting nine minutes for paramedics, compared to the seven-minute goal. 

The health service’s monthly performance stats lay bare the crisis in emergency departments as medics wrestle with increasing Covid hospital and staff sickness rates, excess admissions caused by the heatwave and pandemic backlogs.

Ambulance services across England were this week put on ‘black’ alert amid the escalating crisis, signalling they are under ‘extreme pressure, and trust bosses have told sick Britons only to call 999 if their condition is truly life-threatening and to stop ringing asking where their ambulance is. 

At the same time, the NHS backlog for routine ops grew from 6.4million to 6.6million in May, the latest month with data, meaning one in eight people in England are now waiting for elective care, often in pain.

The number waiting more than a year has also risen to 331,000 and more than 8,000 long-haulers have been in waiting more than two years — despite a Government pledge to wipe two-year waits by the end of this month.

And just a quarter of people referred for diagnostic tests and scans were seen within the NHS’ six-week target in May — way below the 95 per cent standard set by the health service.

One in four nurses say they have witnessed patients being treated in corridors and waiting areas in recent months, leaving them vulnerable to substandard care.

Dr Sarah Scobie, from the Nuffield Trust think-tank, said the latest figures ‘indicate just how severely emergency care within the NHS is struggling and how that is putting patients with urgent and life-threatening care needs at risk.’

The annual GP Patient Survey looked at 719,000 patients in England, the majority of whom were patients with long-term illnesses or disabilities – or their carers.

Of patients who had avoided seeing a GP in the past year, more than a quarter (27 per cent) said they found it too difficult to book an appointment — more than double the number in 2021 (11 per cent).

Some 20 per cent were worried about the burden on the NHS, while 12 per cent said it was due to being worried about catching Covid, down from 17 per cent in 2021.

Of those who did manage to see a doctor in the last 12 months, half (49 per cent) said they were not seen as quickly as they wanted, up from 41 per cent.

Just 56 per cent said they had a good experience making an appointment compared to 71 per cent a year ago.

Ms Cooper said: ‘Far too many people are finding it almost impossible to book a GP appointment when they need one,’ she added.

‘It is particularly worrying that more than one in four people avoided making a GP appointment when they needed one because they found it too difficult. 

‘When people can’t see their doctor, it means vital diagnoses being missed and more pressure on our ambulance services and hospitals.

‘This Conservative government’s failure to get to grips with this crisis is creating a ticking time bomb for our NHS.’ 

The number of patients who struggled to get through to someone at their GP practice by phone has also fallen sharply in recent years.

Almost half (47 per cent) said they found it difficult to get hold of a receptionist and book an appointment.

This is up from 32 per cent last year and just 19 per cent a decade ago, in 2012.

For those who did get through to book an appointment, a growing number said they were given little choice or inconvenient times. 

Nationally, just half (55 per cent) were satisfied with the general practice appointment times that were available to them – the lowest level in five years. 

Overall, the survey found 72 per cent of patients they had a good experience with their GP in the past year — even lower than at the worst points in the pandemic.

For comparison, patient satisfaction was at 83 per cent this time last year and 82 per cent in 2020. 

But there were big regional differences in the latest poll, with just six in 10 patients in parts of the Midlands happy with the care they received.

Beccy Baird, senior fellow at the King’s Fund think-tank, said: ‘For many of us, general practice is the front door to the NHS.

‘These results show that patients are finding that door increasingly hard to push open.

‘GPs are working harder than ever before, yet these findings show a dramatic fall in patients’ experience of getting an appointment.

‘Many of the challenges patients face accessing their GP stem from the chronic staff shortages that have plagued services for years.’

The NHS in England is short of thousands of GPs, with one in six posts estimated to be unfilled.

A key pledge in the Conservative 2019 general election manifesto set out that it would hire 6,000 GPs by 2024. 

For patients who did get through to book an appointment, a growing number said they were given little choice or inconvenient times. Nationally, just half (55 per cent) were satisfied with the general practice appointment times that were available to them - the lowest level in five years

For patients who did get through to book an appointment, a growing number said they were given little choice or inconvenient times. Nationally, just half (55 per cent) were satisfied with the general practice appointment times that were available to them – the lowest level in five years

The number of patients who struggled to get through to someone at their GP practice by phone has also fallen sharply in recent years. Almost half (47 per cent) said they found it difficult to get hold of a receptionist and book an appointment

The number of patients who struggled to get through to someone at their GP practice by phone has also fallen sharply in recent years. Almost half (47 per cent) said they found it difficult to get hold of a receptionist and book an appointment

However, ministers have admitted they are likely to fail on this.

Ms Baird added: ‘Practices can’t recruit enough GPs, nurses or other professionals to meet the rising levels of need, because in many cases those staff simply don’t exist.

‘There has been a failure of successive governments to adequately plan and invest in the future NHS workforce, a failure that has left GPs and patients to pick up the pieces.’

The survey, run by Ipsos MORI on behalf of NHS England, surveyed people between January and April this year.

Across the board, there were drops in patient satisfaction with the standard of care they received.

Some 84 per cent said the healthcare professional was good at treating them with care and concern, down from 88 per cent in 2021.

A total of 91 per cent said their needs were met, down from 94 per cent, and 93 per cent said they had confidence and trust in their GP, down from 96 per cent.

***
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk