One in five GP appointments last more than 20 minutes

Almost a fifth of GP appointments last more than 20 minutes and a third last more than 15 minutes, according to official data that hint at the complexity of consultations.

(Photo: Olena Ruban/Getty Images)

GP practices are delivering unprecedented numbers of appointments, with more than 367m in 2021 and a rise of around 8% in routine consultations in the first six months of this year compared with the same period last year.

In addition to delivering large numbers of appointments, practices are spending significant amounts of time with many patients - reflecting the demands of a population with increasingly complex needs.

Across England as a whole, 32% of consultations in general practice lasted more than 15 minutes, and 19.1% more than 20 minutes, analysis of NHS Digital data for June 2022 by GPonline reveals.

In parts of the country longer appointments are even more common - with 37.4% lasting more than 15 minutes and 23.1% lasting more than 20 minutes in one integrated care system area.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said this week that general practice was 'chronically overstretched and underresourced' - warning that practice teams were 'working to their absolute limits to deliver increasingly complex care to the ever-rising number of patients that need it'.

Research published in BMJ Open in 2017 suggested that the average appointment time in UK general practice was 9.2 minutes.

It is not possible to produce an average figure for appointment length from the NHS Digital figures, but the data make clear that a substantial proportion of appointments in general practice last well over that 9.2-minute figure.

Rising demand

GP leaders have warned that complexity of appointments in general practice is rising - and both the BMA and RCGP have backed a shift to 15-minute appointments.

However, figures published this week showed that GP numbers have continued to decline over the past year, with more than 440 full-time equivalent fully-qualified GPs lost to the profession in the past year and more than 1,500 in the past five years.

The number of patients each FTE GPs is responsible for on average has risen sharply - increasing by 3% in the year to June 2022 alone.

Professor Marshall said that the current level of intensity GPs are being forced to work at is 'unsustainable and it’s unsafe for both patients and staff'.

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