GPs need more than 10 minutes per consultation, warns RCGP

GPs need more than 10 minutes per appointment to manage increasingly complex patients the RCGP has warned, after research linked shorter consultations with lower-quality care.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard (Photo: Pete Hill)

In a list of 67 countries around the world assessed for the length of primary care consultations their healthcare system provides, the UK ranks around the middle, with just under 10 minutes per consultation on average.

But the UK is well behind many comparable countries, with the US, Canada, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal and Australia all offering longer primary care consultations than the UK average.

Average consultation times in countries assessed ranged from 22.5 minutes in Sweden to just 48 seconds in Bangladesh, research published in BMJ Open reveals.

GP burnout

The researchers found a 'significant association between the consultation length and primary care physicians reporting being satisfied with consultation length' and 'significant association with physician burnout'.

Short consultations were a 'key constraint' to delivering expert generalist care, they warned. 'The association between shorter consultations and physician burnout due to a lack of personal accomplishment may indicate that doctors feel less productive and competent at managing complex multimorbid patients in those settings with short consultation lengths,' the researchers wrote. 'Addressing this limitation is necessary if patients with complex needs and multimorbidity are to be effectively managed within primary care.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'The time GPs have to spend with our patients is precious, and the more time we are able to spend with them, the better patient-centred care we are able to provide - so it’s concerning to see that every UK study included in this research shows that we are spending less than 10 minutes on average with our patients during their consultation.

'It backs up previous research showing that consultation times are amongst the lowest in Western Europe and other comparable health systems around the world.

Chronic conditions

'Increasingly, patients are living with multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological - and at the same time GPs are being asked to do more checks, ask more questions and give more advice as standard during consultations. The standard 10-minute appointment is simply inadequate to deal with this.

'But offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments, and our latest analysis of the independent GP Patient Survey found patients will already be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 100m occasions by 2020.'

The college urged the government to deliver promised increases in GP funding in England and to roll out similar rises across the UK.

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