In the first large-scale quantitative study on the safety of healthcare provision in general practice in England, researchers found that 91% of patients across 45 practices from a wide range of geographic and socio-economic areas agreed that their GP providers were trustworthy.
The findings come just months after a survey by a leading think tank found that patient satisfaction with general practice was higher than for any other NHS service despite growing workforce and workload pressure.
The latest study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, found that the mean safety rating patients give their practice, out of a maximum possible score of 100, was 85.
Around 18% of patients at participating practices responded to the poll, and results have been weighted to reflect the characteristics of full patient populations across the practices.
The study found that 45% of patients reported at least one problem with the safety of GP services they had received over the past 12 months, although the researchers acknowledged that 'patients who experienced safety problems or harm may have been more likely to complete the survey'.
However, by far the most commonly cited problem related to access to appointments, with 33% of patients reporting they were unable to access an appointment when needed at least once. By contrast, safety problems with medication were reported by just 4% of patients.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: 'It is human nature to report a bad experience of a service than a good one, so the fact that most patients who responded to this survey had a positive perception of safety in their GP practice is really encouraging. However, it is important that where patient safety is a concern, it is identified and addressed swiftly and effectively.
'Providing high quality patient care and keeping our patients safe are the driving forces behind general practice, and a priority for all family doctors. This dedication has led to GPs consistently being ranked amongst the most trusted healthcare professionals in the UK – with 92% of patients reporting trust and confidence in the last GP they saw according to the latest independent GP Patient Survey.
'The college has long been highlighting the risks that rising patient demand against a backdrop of decreasing resources and insufficient numbers of GPs and practice staff could have on our patients’ safety. This research backs this up, and hammers home the need for this issue to be addressed as a matter of urgency.'
The researchers urged practices to do more to improve GP-patient communication. The report found that 62% of patients said they never or rarely raised a concern when they believed something was not right with their healthcare.