Patients face GP appointment postcode lottery, warns RCGP

'Shocking' variations in GP numbers across England are creating wide variations in patients' ability to access appointments, the RCGP has revealed.

GP consultation: access variations highlighted by RCGP (Photo: JH Lancy)
GP consultation: access variations highlighted by RCGP (Photo: JH Lancy)

Patients face a ‘postcode lottery’ when booking appointments, the college said, providing further evidence of a crisis in general practice, which is ‘creaking under the weight of a growing and ageing population’.

An RCGP analysis based on the GP Patient Survey, found up to four times as many people reported being unable to get an appointment in places where access to a GP is worst, compared with the best performing areas.

In Bradford, 22% of patients reported concerns about getting an appointment, compared with 5% in Bath and North East Somerset.

The college found that in North, East and West Devon there are over 60 GPs per 100,000 patients, compared with Slough’s 22.

It found that patients who report the most difficulty getting an appointment live in the most deprived areas. Eight of out of 10 areas with the longest waiting times for a GP appointment had moderate to high levels of deprivation.

College chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘Every single patient should be able to see their GP when they are in need of medical assistance, regardless of where they live.

‘It is absolutely shocking that, due to the current funding crisis in general practice, patients are now facing a postcode lottery.

‘It is doubly unacceptable that those patients affected tend to be those who live in deprived parts of the country.’

Dr Baker reiterated the college’s demand for general practice to receive 11% of the NHS budget to fund an increase in GPs and cope with rising demand. 

A spokesman for NHS England said: ‘Patients should have good access to health services, regardless of where they live. This year, for the first time, NHS England introduced a deprivation factor into local health budgets to start to redress historic funding issues. 

‘We are also working with Health Education England to ensure that year-on-year more GPs are trained and recruited. But we need transformation right across primary care and going forward we want to enable the GP-led CCGs to have more impact over spending decisions to ensure local people have the best access to high quality healthcare.’

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