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A Pulse survey of nearly 800 GPs has found that one in six have had to stop routine bookings and limit appointments to ‘emergency’ patients only at some point in the last year.
Waiting times for GP appointments remain at two weeks despite attempts by the NHS to relieve pressures on practices. The survey discovered that GPs have admitted that they have had no routine appointments available for the next four weeks, so have decided to limit them to urgent appointments, with some resorting to using telephone triage to identify which patients required a GP consultation for an urgent versus a routine matter.
Responding to the question of ‘have you had to stop taking bookings for routine appointments at any point in the past 12 months?’, 71 per cent of respondents said they had not had to do so and 17 per cent conceding that they had to reject patients attempting to see a GP for a routine matter.
Pulse has also reported that, despite Health secretary Jeremy Hunt pledging in 2015 that there would be 5,000 extra GPs in England by 2020, the number of full-time equivalent GPs in the workforce has decreased by more than 1,000 since then.
Richard Vautrey, BMA GP Committee chair, said: “This is further evidence of the pressures practices are under, with growing demands for appointments not being matched with an ability to provide them due to the continuing recruitment and retention crisis in general practice.
“Over recent years, the number of consultations has been steadily rising while the GP workforce has been declining. Surgeries are now left in the position where telephone triage is the only method by which staff are able to handle this demand in a safe manner – but this can result in increased stress for many GPs as they try to manage so many patients each day.”
In response, Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "It's huge testament to the hard work and dedication of GPs and our teams that more than 70 per cent report not having had to turn a patient with a routine issue away, but for others, there simply are not the consultations to offer, or the GPs to deliver them.
"We're trying our best, and utilising innovative schemes, such as Skype or telephone triage or 'same day' booking systems, to see as many patients as possible, prioritise their needs, and if appropriate, suggest an alternative healthcare professional in the community. But the pressures GPs and our teams are working under are unsustainable - our workload has escalated in volume and complexity in recent years, but investment in our profession is less than it was a decade ago, and GP numbers are actually falling. Ultimately, we need to see NHS England's GP Forward View, which promises £2.4 billion extra a year for general practice, 5,000 more GPs and 5,000 more members of the practice team by 2020, to be delivered in full and as a matter of urgency."