Guidance

Why can it sometimes be difficult to get an appointment?

General Practice is open and is offering face to face appointments, but it is also….

  • facing unprecedented demand which is outweighing capacity. As of May 2024, a single GP is now responsible for an average of 2,292 patients. This is an increase of 354 more patients per GP since 2015 (Source: BMA analysis of NHS General Practice Workforce data).
  • dealing with increased patient list sizes, with an ageing population, and more complex health needs.
  • facing staff sickness and shortages. General Practice is struggling to recruit for vacant posts, and find locum cover so that patients can still be seen if a colleague is sick or absent.
  • being affected by the backlog elsewhere in the NHS.
  • is underfunded.

GPs and their practice teams are delivering a high number of consultations, and face to face appointments are available to patients where there is a clinical need.

Consultation rates per patient have increased, leading to GPs and their teams working harder than ever to prioritise patient care.

In May 2024, another record-high of 63.37 million patients were registered with GP practices in England. (Source: BMA analysis of NHS General Practice Workforce data).

NHS Digital Data shows that in October 2022, the highest number of GP appointments ever was offered at an estimated 36.1 million appointments across England – a record high

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GP workload is much more than patient contact

GPs are faced with unmanageable workloads coupled with a rapidly shrinking and exhausted workforce. The Covid-19 pandemic generated a vast backlog of care. This backlog is so far largely unmeasured and unrecognised in General Practice. It is exerting increasing pressure on a system that is already at breaking point. Patient contact is only part of the daily workload for General Practice. Some GPs are having to reduce patient facing sessions to keep on top of the unseen workload.

General Practice is working harder than ever….

This visual represents the unseen daily work being carried out by GPs and their teams in addition to patient contact*

Work needs to be carried out by government to alert the public of the intense pressures that General Practice is under, rather than making GPs try to do more work with fewer resources.

*Wessex LMC version with thanks from e-GP Learning who created the concept

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GP retention is as vital as GP recruitment

The most impactful way to meet the growing patient demand is to expand the general practice workforce. In February 2020, in a bid to reverse the stasis in GP workforce numbers, the government announced a drive to recruit an additional 6,000 GPs by 2024.

Yet despite these promises, the government has failed to deliver, and as of May 2024 there has only been an increase of 2,623 FTE doctors (including trainees and locums) in general practice since the end of 2019. (Source: BMA analysis of NHS General Practice Workforce data). The longer-term trend shows that the NHS is losing GPs at an alarming rate.

GPs are leaving the workforce at all stages of their career with many citing exhaustion and burnout as a result of unmanageable workload. With mounting pressures in general practice, these losses are set to continue further if the government does not take appropriate action. The RCGPs Fit for Future Report found that 39% of GPs surveyed are seriously considering leaving the profession within the next five years. This could translate to over 22,000 GPs leaving the workforce.

It takes 10 years to train a fully qualified from entry to medical school. To have an impact in short-terms needs there needs to be greater focus on doing more to retain the GPs we have. GPs need to be supported to remain working in general practice for longer.

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Please be patient and kind to General Practice staff

It’s recognised that waiting for an appointment can be frustrating. GP practices are there to support their community, and ask patients please show them support and understanding by being kind, patient and responsible when accessing their services.

General Practices first duty is to their patients. They want to be able to provide safe, high-quality care to patients, without risking others or themselves. At a time of unprecedented pressures, they must make changes to their systems to preserve patient care in the face of a shrinking workforce and rising workloads.

Patients will receive all the services they need, but not necessarily those they may want. Demand for services can be high at times, and staff appreciate it can take a while to speak to a member of the team, but kindly ask that patients be courteous and respectful.

During these difficult times, practice teams are working hard to protect both staff and patients. Help practices focus on caring for you. Let’s make sure General Practice continues to be a great place for staff, and patients to be cared for.

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Your GP surgery needs your support, so it can be there to support you

GP staff are grateful for the support and understanding of patients which was reflected in the 2024 GP Patient Survey.

  • 73.9% said their overall experience of their GP practice was good
  • 89.9% said their needs were met at their last appointment
  • 92.3% said they had confidence and trust in the healthcare professional at their last appointment

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What can patients do to help?

  • Please cancel your appointment if you no longer need it so that someone else can use it, no matter how late in the day. Data from NHS Digital shows that between Jan 2019 and Jan 2023 the average monthly number of missed appointments nationally was 1,173,753. The equivalent of 11,529 lost working days.
  • Consider whether your request for an appointment is appropriate. Would other NHS services more adequately meet your needs?
  • Understand that you may see a member of the extended healthcare team, instead of your GP. Matching patients to the healthcare professional who is most suited to their specific condition often means people get the help they need quicker than if they had gone through a GP. A 2023 survey of the ‘Our Health Our Future panel’, which is made up of people living across Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire, revealed that 89% of people would be happy to see another clinician, and that 81% would also accept an appointment with a pharmacist.
  • Remember most appointments are set up for a single issue in a 10 minute appointment and you are likely to need to book another appointment if you have multiple separate issues to discuss.
  • Find out what support your practice needs, and talk to others to help them understand the current crisis.
  • Think about joining your practice’s Patient Participation Group to discuss the challenges and pressures facing General Practice both in general and locally.
  • Talk or write to your local MP about your practice’s problems.
  • Respond positively to your practices social media posts by understanding the pressures they are under.

We ask that patients support their surgery so it can be there to support them. General practice desperately needs help, which is why the BMA are calling on the Government to provide the funding needed to provide better services and more GPs, and staff to see people promptly.

Please take a minute to sign the BMA petition and show your support for your local practice by visiting www.bma.org.uk/supportyoursurgery

Practices, download the key messages film for use in your waiting rooms here. To have your practice logo added, please email joanna.welch@wessexlmcs.org.uk

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Last Reviewed Date
11/12/2023