Winter pressure saw 15% rise in one-month waits for GP appointments

More than 2.2m patients waited almost a month for a GP appointment in January and February this year - up 15% compared with the same period in 2018, a BMA report shows.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

Analysis by the BMA of NHS Digital GP appointment data found 'fewer same-day appointments and significant rises in the number of appointments involving a wait of over a week'.

The figures show that primary care was under even greater pressure this winter than last - despite low levels of flu in winter 2018/19 and no repeat of the NHS-wide cancellation of routine appointments.

Numbers of same-day GP appointments fell by 213,000 in January to February 2019 compared with the same two-month period in 2018, the BMA report shows.

Two-week waits for GP appointments rose by 13% and waits of longer than a week rose by 9%. Although NHS Digital figures do not differentiate between appointments booked in advance and long waits for appointments that patients did not want, the BMA pointed out that patient survey data show 'only 4% wanted a wait of over a week so this is very unlikely to be a result of patient choice'.

Waiting times

The report said rising waiting times for GP appointments were 'partly a result of the continuing shortages in the number of GPs working, with numbers of qualified full-time equivalent GPs having fallen to 28,596, a worrying loss of 600 GPs in a year'. It added that the drop in the workforce had come as patient numbers continued to rise.

The report also warned that 'thousands of cancer patients were left waiting weeks for treatment' over  the winter. Analysis by the BMA found that nearly one in four cancer patients waited 'more than two months for their first treatment after an urgent referral by a GP'.

Just 76.2% were seen within 62 days, falling short of the below the 85% target - a figure that the BMA report called 'the worst performance on record'.

BMA chair, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Behind these statistics, which show the NHS plunged deeper into crisis this winter, are stories of real lives in distress. Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families. It also places stress on the clinicians who treat them as they are well aware that the cancer may have worsened during the delay between referral and treatment.'

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