UK patients struggling to get GP appointments

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It has been revealed that one in four GP surgeries close their doors for at least one afternoon each week. This makes it extremely difficult for patients to arrange GP appointments.

Some surgeries have lunch breaks which could last up to four and a half hours.

This information has become available after an investigation by the Daily Mail.

Patients’ groups have criticised this revelation as a ‘ridiculous situation’.

A survey by the Mail and Saga earlier this year revealed that up to two million people are experiencing waits of up to three weeks for a GP appointment. According to the Royal College of General Practitioners in excess of 34 million people will fail to get a GP appointment when they need one this year.

The newspaper undertook analysis of the opening hours of 944 surgeries from 20 of the new local health bodies which consist of general practices. The areas they targeted included Devon, Cumbria, Brighton, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and London.

It was found that around 275 or 29% of the surgeries closed for long time periods during the business week. Of these, around 26% closed for an afternoon each week, normally Wednesday or Thursday, and about 3% had lunch breaks of between two and four and a half hours.

In Sheffield, 67% of the 105 surgeries are closed on a Thursday afternoon, with some closing as early as 10:20am.

Patient groups have criticised these closing times and stated that shutting surgeries would place more pressure on the already over-burdened A&E hospital units.

The co-director of Patient Concern, Joyce Robins, said that the situation was ridiculous considering that most surgeries have around 10 to 12 GPs working in the practice. One would think that with this available number, at least one could stay in the afternoon. The Government is supposed to offer encouragement to practices to offer extended hours in the evening, but the surgeries are not even open when they are supposed to be.

The Chief Executive of the Patients Association, Katherine Murphy, has urged the Government to asses this issue in a bid to ensure that patients are able to get GP appointments between the hours of 8am and 6:30pm.

She said that the patient will ultimately suffer and will simply go to the A&E if they are unable to get a GP appointment.

The chairperson of the RCGP, Dr Maureen Baker, said that these findings are at odds with what they have told by GP members. According to doctors, they are working longer hours to offer patients the best care.

NHS England has stated that GP practices need to remain open during their contracted hours and this is not negotiable at all.

Image Credit: Bryan Mills

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