Patients delay visiting family doctors because of fear of access because family doctors are demanding reinforcements | Panda Anku

More than a third of those surveyed had delayed visiting their family doctor in the last 12 months (Image: Getty)

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “You would expect a satisfaction rate of more than 61 per cent from a good service. It shows that we still have a long way to go.”

The Savanta ComRes survey for the Daily Express found that 827 out of 2,224 adults had delayed seeing a doctor in the past year. The main reasons were that the booking process was difficult (51%) and felt they would not be able to get an in-person appointment (43%).

Around 35 per cent felt they were not being seen quickly enough and a quarter were reluctant to increase pressure on the NHS. The thought that the GP could not help was a factor for 17 percent, 16 percent worried about catching Covid, 10 percent were ashamed of their symptoms and five percent said there was another reason.

Prof Marshall said declining numbers of GPs coupled with increasing demand would affect the quality and availability of services. He said: “Patients need to be confident that they can see someone when they need to see them.

“The evidence is very clear that patients are struggling to gain access and this is clearly worrying or worrying, particularly for patients who may have cancer or a long-term condition that is not well controlled.

“When supplies are limited, those who shout the loudest are often tended to and those without a voice, often those most in need, are not tended. So it exacerbates health inequalities.”

The Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto promised to add 6,000 family doctors by 2024. But there are now more than 1,500 fewer fully qualified GPs working full-time equivalents in the NHS than five years ago.

Meanwhile, the NHS made almost 158 ​​million GP appointments in the first six months of this year, compared with 146 million in the same period in 2021 and 2019.

The NHS treatment backlog is creating more work for GPs to support patients awaiting surgery. GPs are also trying to clear their own backlog of routine checkups for long-term illnesses that have been delayed during the pandemic.

The pressure to have surgeries is damaging patient-doctor relationships, Prof Marshall warned. He said: “With the whole system under pressure, there is a risk that first policymakers, then NHS managers and now even clinicians will see GP as very transactional.

“We have forgotten how important personal and trusting relationships are. It is very clear from across a range of healthcare systems over decades that patients who know them well as GPs are more likely to be satisfied with the advice, to agree with and follow the advice you give them.

“They’re more likely to get better outcomes and go to emergency rooms and hospitals less often.”

Professor Martin Marshall (right) is a general practitioner based in east London

Professor Martin Marshall (right) is a general practitioner based in east London (Image: Getty)

Prof Marshall urged the next prime minister to finally take action to increase the number of GPs rather than repeating seemingly empty promises. Employee retention programs, investment in recruitment and training, and more support staff — like pharmacists, psychiatrists or physical therapists — could help when they join surgeries, he said.

He added: “The GP practice is not the only part of the NHS that is having a staffing crisis. But it is so fundamental to the effectiveness of the rest of the NHS that unless they take conscious action rather than promises, we will not solve this problem.”

dr Rachel Ward, a GP and member of the Rebuild General Practice campaign, said both patients and GPs are “abandoned by the broken system”.

She said: “There simply aren’t enough GPs to meet the needs of our patients. We’ve been begging those in power for months to resolve this crisis. We need more doctors, less bureaucracy, and we need the public to understand that the government is failing patients, not GPs.”

A Department for Health and Social Care spokesman said: “GP teams continue to work incredibly hard, providing over 26 million appointments in July, including life-saving Covid vaccinations. People should continue to reach out for care or advice if they need it.

“The leadership is clear. GP practices must offer face-to-face appointments in addition to remote consultations – and nearly two-thirds of appointments in July were in-person.

“We have made available £520m to improve access and expand the capacity of GPs during the pandemic and there are a record number of GPs in training as we work to create 50m more appointments a year .”

dr  Lisa Nayler has been a GP for 20 years and says it's gotten a lot harder

dr Lisa Nayler has been a GP for 20 years and says it’s gotten a lot harder (Image: Lisa Nayler)

Pressure is mounting due to fewer doctors and more patients, GP warns

dr Lisa Nayler has been a GP for 20 years and says things have gotten “much, much more difficult” since the beginning of 2020.

She works 11-12 hours three days a week and often does administrative tasks at home in the evenings.

dr Nayler said: “It’s difficult to see a GP but that’s because we are fewer than we used to be and there are more patients.

“Quite often my consultations start with really angry, angry patients who couldn’t see me. I have to say, ‘I’m really sorry, but you see me now. What can we do?'”

dr Nayler, who works at a practice in Poole, Dorset, said doctors were increasingly concerned about patient safety.

The guidance suggests they should safely see about 25 patients a day, but she’s typically dealing with 30-40. Time pressure often forces quick decisions and increases the risk of errors.

dr Nayler said she recently misread a patient’s blood test result at the end of a long day. Luckily, the error was spotted and the patient was fine.

She added: “You’re always aware that there’s this safety aspect, that it’s possible to make mistakes when you’re tired and that scares us all.”

Too many older patients are frustrated because they have a hard time seeing their GP in person, says DENNIS REED

Throughout the past year, Silver Voices has worked to bring face-to-face visits with GPs back to pre-pandemic levels. We have launched a successful petition on the government website calling for a legal right for patients to have a timely face-to-face appointment with their GP.

Then-Health Minister Sajid Javid responded to the campaign and subsequent parliamentary debates with carrots and sticks to inflate the number of such appointments without improving their performance.

Not much has changed and the government has been silent on the issue for months. Only about 60% of appointments are face-to-face, and often with other practice staff, not GPs, compared to about 80% before the pandemic.

Our members report ongoing difficulties in scheduling a doctor visit, leading to frustration, delayed diagnoses and increased pressure on accident and emergency departments. And complaints to the health watchdog about lack of access to GPs have tripled.

Perhaps the government has gone silent because ministers realize this debate keeps harking back to their broken promise to increase the number of doctors by 6,000 by 2024.

In fact, the number of doctors has dropped by about 1,500 since it was first accepted in 2015, resulting in an increased patient list of 300 for the average doctor.

Another chronic problem is the zip code lottery when it comes to the number of patients per family doctor, which can be between less than 1,000 and more than 10,000 depending on where you live and the practice.

In the last 20 years there has been no system to monitor where more GPs are needed, or any action to ensure GP deserts are sorted out.

GPs are rightly upset about their workload, but it was wrong to unilaterally reduce in-person appointments without consulting patient groups and ensuring those who cannot or do not wish to attend remote consultations are not discouraged from seeing their doctor .

– Dennis Reed is the director of Silver Voices, a campaign group for the over 60s

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