BMA points to factors Boris Johnson must tackle to 'drastically reduce' GP waiting times

Prime minister Boris Johnson must recognise problems with the workforce, premises and pensions to have any chance of delivering on his pledge to 'drastically reduce' GP waiting times, the BMA has warned.

Prime minister Boris Johnson (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Prime minister Boris Johnson (Photo: WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Mr Johnson told MPs in his first speech as prime minister that he had 'asked officials to provide policy proposals for drastically reducing waiting times for GP appointments'.

GPonline revealed earlier this year that of the 307m GP appointments delivered over the past year by GPs in England, more than 211m - around seven in 10 - took place within a week.

But in around 17% of cases, patients wait more than two weeks for an appointment - reflecting rising pressure on general practice across England. Although the figures are skewed to an extent by cases in which patients have simply booked ahead, the BMA has acknowledged that some patients are waiting too long.

Responding to Mr Johnson's pledge, BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'GPs are already working hard to provide good, timely care to patients, despite mounting workload pressures, but we recognise that some are still waiting too long to be seen, and GPs and their teams are as eager to see this change as anyone else.

GP waiting times

'The new prime minister’s focus on bringing down waiting times for patients to see their GP is of course a welcome ambition, but he needs to firstly recognise the underlying pressures behind long waits and then spell out exactly how he is going to address these.'

Dr Vautrey pointed out that numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) GPs had fallen by around 700 since 2015 - despite a government pledge at the time to increase GP numbers by 5,000.

He added: 'Without the staff to carry out consultations, patients will continue to wait too long. Furthermore, we know that many practice buildings are not fit for purpose, unable to meet the needs of a rising population with increasingly complex health needs. Therefore, there must be urgent investment in practice premises.'

Dr Vautrey also warned that the BMA had warned the government it must tackle problems with tax on pension contributions, which have forced many GPs - and other NHS doctors - to reduce their working hours or refuse extra shifts to avoid punitive charges.

'In many cases GPs are wanting and able to work more sessions but the punitive impact of pension tax charges is preventing them from doing so,' Dr Vautrey warned.

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