GP practices 'blocked up' as hospitals fail to warn patients about care delays

Hospitals should publicise expected waiting times for treatment across different specialties to limit numbers of patients contacting GPs to ask about delayed care, LMCs have argued.

Hospital sign
(Photo: Stephen Barnes/Getty Images)

In a themed debate on unresourced workload at the UK LMCs conference in York, LMC secretary for North Staffordshire Dr Chandra Kanneganti suggested that trusts should share waiting times for each specialism to reduce queries aimed at GPs.

Dr Kanneganti, a partner in Stoke-on-Trent, said that 10-15% of all consultations at his surgeries were patients asking about secondary care appointments.

Other GPs also said that secondary care lacked ‘effective and comprehensive’ communication with patients, which was causing people ‘undue stress’ and ‘blocking up’ GP appointments.

Secondary care dump

Calls from LMC for hospitals to have greater transparency around waits for consultant appointments follow comments by London GP Dr Farzana Hussain last week who reported spending a third of her day discussing delayed hospital appointments.

Proposing solutions to unresourced workload, Dr Kanneganti said: ‘Everyday, 10-15% of our consultations [are patient asking us]: “Can you tell me when I will be seen? When will I be seen by the consultant?” I'm sorry, we do not know the answer, and I’m calling up the hospital as well.

‘My solution for this is simple. Trusts should actually be honest and publicise their waiting times for every speciality on a website, which patients can access and then they will know that this is the waiting time.’ Dr Kanneganti added that expedite letters did not ‘make any difference’ and that hospitals should not ask GPs to write letters to patients - saying it would ‘significantly’ reduce GP workload at present.

City and Hackney LMC chair Dr Vinay Patel also argued that hospitals needed to develop better and clearer communication with patients because GPs were being overwhelmed with queries from patients about their delayed care.

GP appointments

He said: ‘The lack of effective and comprehensive communication from secondary care is causing undue stress for patients and considerable workload for practices. Our GP clinical appointments are often blocked with queries relating to delays, chasing outpatient results and many other things that we do not have the answers for.

‘Clinics need to give more specific details to patients on what to expect. How long will you [wait to] be contacted, how long is the current or expected waiting time for requested investigations [and inform patients that] tf you haven't been contacted within 4, 6 or 8 weeks, phone this number or email this address.

‘This will empower patients, improve the patient journey, and patient satisfaction. It will hold secondary care to account for their work entirely reasonably, and it will reduce unnecessary workload on our practice teams so we can continue to care for those who should and need to.’

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid warned earlier this year that general practice will face increased pressure from the backlog in NHS hospital care for years, telling MPs that the record 6m waiting list will not start to fall until 2024.

A recent National Audit Office (NAO) report laid bare how soaring waits for hospital treatment are heaping pressure on general practice - and that the trend pre-dates the COVID-19 pandemic.

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