One in 10 patients trying to make an appointment with their family are left waiting three weeks or more, NHS figures have revealed.
This adds up to around five million patients every month who can’t see their GP within 21 days, with a million of them having to wait a staggering four weeks.
And at the same time, more than a million appointments simply go to waste every month because people don’t bother to turn up.
Data released yesterday showed patients failed to attend nearly six million consultations in the first five months of 2018.
The Royal College of General Practitioners has urged patients to let their GP surgery know ‘as soon as possible’ if they can’t attend their appointment.
The NHS Digital figures come amid warnings the unprecedented demand and falling GP numbers has left the primary care sector extremely fragile.
Shock data released today has shown patients didn’t attend nearly six million consultations in the first five months of 2018
In October, 2.8million patients didn’t see a doctor until 21 days after first trying to make an appointment, and half of those people waited more than a month.
The growing waiting times will pile pressure on the NHS to fix its worsening GP shortage – the Government pledged to start hiring 5,000 extra family doctors in 2015 but there are 1,000 fewer GPs now than there were then, The Times reported.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: ‘Today’s data also shows that many patients are not attending appointments when they have made them.
‘There can be a number of reasons for this, and in some cases a patient not attending an appointment can be an indication that something has gone wrong.
‘But this waste of resources is frustrating, and we would urge patients to let us know if they can’t attend as soon as possible.’
She added that informing the GP surgery would allow over-stretched doctors to ‘offer that time to someone else who really needs it’.
The NHS figures, collected every month, show around 116million GP appointments were made between January and May.
NHS TO OFFER AUSTRALIAN DOCTORS A RELOCATION PACKAGE
The NHS will offer Australian doctors a ‘relocation package’ of up to £18,500 to move to the UK as it tries to hire more GPs to battle a staffing crisis, it was reported in October.
The health service will target GPs who previously left the UK for Australia and are looking to return home, as well as Australian GPs who want to live in the UK.
NHS England’s director of care said the UK was ‘pulling out all the stops’ as it tries to bring in doctors from a country where training and quality are as high as at home.
Doctor recruitment is being widened to Australia after the NHS received applications from more than 1,200 GPs in Europe.
NHS England’s director of primary care delivery Dominic Hardy said at the time: ‘It’s no secret the NHS needs to recruit more GPs.
‘So it makes sense to head to Australia where doctors’ skills, training and high levels of care closely match those of their British counterparts.
However, statisticians behind the figures believe the true figure is closer to the 130million mark because not all GP practices are included.
Of the known appointments made, 5.8million were classed as missed – meaning patients don’t turn up to around one in 20 consultations.
Data showed slightly more than 115million GP appointments were made in the five months between June and October.
But the figures have not yet been jotted up to work out the proportion of patients who missed them. However, it is likely to be similar.
At the same time as people are missing appointments, millions are have having to wait three weeks to a month – or more – before they can get an audience with their GP.
In total, 10.3 per cent of patients are now waiting three weeks or more to see a doctor, The Telegraph reported.
This figure is worse than last year when it was just 9.4 per cent of people.
Around four in ten patients manage to get an appointment on the same day they phone the doctor, and two thirds are seen the same week.
Frustrated GPs have for years touted the controversial idea of fining patients if they fail to turn up to their appointments.
And surveys have shown the majority of Britons support fines for people who miss GP and hospital appointments to boost NHS funding.
A proposal to even charge patients £5 in the hope of deterring them from seeing their GP was even put forward to the British Medical Association this summer.
Official figures showed in February that 41 per cent of GPs – around 10,000 doctors – are 50 or over and are expected to quit within the next five to ten years.
Many are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector, increasing the pressure on those who still work in the sector.
|Total count of appointments||27,084,027||21,903,722||21,518,463||22,723,785||22,147,049|
|Estimated total appointments||29,680,000||24,030,000||23,830,000||25,030,000||24,460,000|
|Did Not Attend||UNKNOWN||UNKNOWN||UNKNOWN||UNKNOWN||UNKNOWN|
|Total count of appointments||23,178,584||22,102,023||23,437,784||22,256,320||25,331,515|
|Estimated total appointments||25,690,000||24,570,000||26,190,000||24,890,000||28,350,000|
|Did Not Attend||1,125,374||1,090,615||1,218,119||1,147,041||1,241,041|
Record shortages are leaving patients with ever-longer waiting times, and make it far more difficult to see the same GP each time.
Despite an NHS a £2.4billion plan to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2021 and cut a staff shortage, numbers of family doctors are falling.
Fewer young doctors are choosing to specialise as GPs, and are opting for more ‘macho’ career paths as surgeons or specialists.
Pressures faced by doctors also include a rising number of patients, some with multiple complex health conditions.
This has led to concerns that the average consultation time of 10 minutes in the UK – thought to be the shortest in the developed world – is simply not enough.
MORE THAN 700 GP SURGERIES COULD CLOSE BY 2023
More than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, experts revealed last week.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said 762 practices in the UK are at risk of closing within the next five years because at least three quarters of their doctors are aged 55 or over and approaching retirement.
Experts said so many closures would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the health service.
Appointment waiting times could get even longer, workloads would grow and more people could end up queueing at A&E for minor illnesses.
Campaigners warned the potential closures would be ‘dangerous’ for patients and are calling for ‘drastic action’ to encourage new GPs to join the profession.
The situation is worst in Southend in Essex, where 13 of the area’s 35 GP practices are at risk of closing, potentially affecting nearly 39,000 patients.
A third of surgeries in the London borough of Havering could shut down, and more than 85,000 patients could lose their GP in Sandwell and West Birmingham.
Only around a quarter of areas of England have no practices at risk of closure, according to the RCGP’s estimates.
Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners have revealed 762 GP practices across the UK are at risk of closing in the next five years (Map shows the proportion of surgeries in each area which are at risk of closing)