Millions of GP appointments last less than five minutes, figures suggest

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Millions of GP appointments in the last year lasted less than five minutes, research from the Liberal Democrats suggests.

House of Commons Library analysis, based on NHS figures from March 2022 to February 2023, included data for the number and proportion of appointments lasting between one to five minutes.

It found that the proportion of all appointments lasting one to five minutes in England ranged from 16% this February to almost 21% last October.

Regional variations were also seen around the country.

The Liberal Democrats said the Government’s failure to recruit more GPs has meant patients are “waiting for weeks to get an appointment only to be rushed through in a matter of minutes.”

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said: “Many patients need time to properly talk through their symptoms with a GP, especially when they have complex health problems.

“But the Government’s failure to recruit the extra GPs they promised has meant doctors are being forced to cram in more and more short appointments.

“People are being left waiting weeks to get an appointment only to be rushed through in a matter of minutes.

“Entire communities are paying the price for years of neglect under the Conservatives, who have driven local health services into the ground.

“Liberal Democrats have set out a plan to boost GP numbers and guarantee people a right to an appointment within one week, so people can finally get the care and attention they deserve.”

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs and our teams are working exceptionally hard in the face of intense workload and workforce pressures to ensure their patients receive safe, timely and appropriate care.

“Over the timeframe the Lib Dems have analysed, 345.8 million consultations were delivered in general practice and almost 40% lasted longer than 10 minutes – more than half, if you exclude those with an unknown length.

“Increasingly, GPs do need more time with patients, particularly if they have complex or multiple health problems.

“This is why the College has called for 15-minute GP appointments as standard, and longer for those who need it.

“However, this is not to say every patient will need this time as some simple conditions can be dealt with in less, particularly if it is not the GP they are seeing – for example, a simple blood test might only take a few minutes of a practice nurse’s time – so patients should not feel as though they are being ‘rushed through’ if they have a short appointment.

“But years of underfunding and inadequate workforce planning means that GPs and our teams are struggling to see all the patients who need our care and give them the time they need, especially when seeing 50 or more patients in a day, which many GPs report is a common occurrence.

“Imposing a legal requirement for all patients to be seen within a week would likely make this worse as it would force GP practices to reduce the length of each appointment to meet the target. There are simply not enough GPs or other members of the team to make it work – and not every patient will need or want to be seen within a week, or even two.”

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