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Written on 24th August 2021 by

 

Boyes Turner investigate the time it takes to book a GP appointment in England.

Have you tried to arrange a doctor’s appointment in the last six months? Well, if you have then you may not be surprised to hear that almost half of people have been unable to book an appointment ‘slot’ the first time they got in touch with their practice.

As experts in medical negligence, we know the importance of receiving the right treatment quickly, so we were curious to find out how easy it’s been for the British public to book a doctor’s appointment when they’ve needed one.

We conducted a survey of over 1,000 UK adults that have tried to book a GP appointment in the last six months and combined this with analysis of NHS data on appointment waiting times.

It is clear from our research that GPs have been strained, with almost half of the respondents to our survey (48%) reporting that were unable to even book an appointment the first time they got in touch with their GP, as there weren’t any bookable slots left or they couldn’t get through to reception staff.

The effects of Covid-19 on GP appointments waiting times

The last 18 months have seen unprecedented pressure on health services, as doctors and nurses have been on the front line against numerous waves of Covid-19.

More than two thirds (68%) of people told us they felt waiting times are up to or at least twice as long as they were before the pandemic.

 

The doctor will see you now

Respondents to our survey reported an average waiting time of 7 days for appointments booked in the last 6 months – suggesting it’s taking several days to get through to the practice.

Those who said their appointment was “very urgent” waited an average of 7.4 days, but those who only described their issue as “quite urgent” were often seen quicker, with an average wait time of 5.6 days.

For coronavirus-related illnesses, people waited 16 days on average from first making contact to having their appointment.

Looking at the waiting times across the country, those in the North East and South West said they had been trying to get an appointment slot with their practice for around 3 days (the quickest across the UK), while those in London had been trying to secure a slot for around 6 days.

However, patients in the South West then had the longest average wait time from when their appointment was confirmed to when it actually took place though (8 days).

Those in the East of England have had the shortest wait; an average of 4 days in total, since they initially enquired about an appointment to it taking place.

The NHS View

The NHS data - which only reveals time between a booking confirmation and the appointment itself - shows that since the initial outbreak of Covid-19 in the UK, Londoners have had the best chance of seeing a doctor on the same-day that their appointment had been confirmed, while people in the South West have had the lengthiest wait on average – with 4% required to wait more than 4 weeks from when their booking was confirmed.

Since the initial lockdown, the number of appointments occurring on the same day their booking was confirmed has increased by 10% (so that more than half of patients were seen the day of their booking confirmation). However, the lifting of restrictions and subsequent lockdowns have seen this number settle at just slightly above pre-pandemic levels.

Turning to alternatives

It can be frustrating when a doctor’s appointment isn’t available quickly in times of need, making it harder to get the right advice and treatment required.

In the last six months, people that have been unable to book an appointment with their GP have turned to other sources of help.

One in four (27%) resorted to using the internet or calling 111 for help when a doctor’s appointment wasn’t available, while one in twenty people turned to A&E.

The numbers turning to their nearest A&E department vary by region – 8% of people in the South West of England resorted to A&E in lieu of a GP appointment, while none of our respondents in the East of England did.

The East of England did, however, see a third of people (33.3%) electing to ignore the issue altogether when unable to make an appointment with their GP.

Nationally, one in ten (10%) turned to alternative therapies when a GP was unavailable to give medical advice, while 9% turned to private healthcare.

Whether it’s due to not being able to get through to a receptionist, or even due to a significant wait once your appointment is finally booked, a delay in seeing a medical professional has the potential to lead to serious complications for your health.

If you would like to discuss any potential issues related to how a delay in seeing a medical professional could lead to a medical negligence claim, please call us on 0800 124 4845.