UK & World News
Millions Of Patients 'Unable To See GPs'
More than 34 million patients will fail to get an appointment with their GP this year, according to figures seen by Sky News.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) used official NHS statistics to estimate the number of patients who will be unable to see a GP or practice nurse because surgeries are too busy.
It believes patients have to look after themselves, try again at a later date, or seek medical attention at walk-in centres or A&E. And it warns some conditions may get worse as a result.
Latest figures from the GP Patient Survey, which is carried out by NHS England, show one in 10 patients is unable to see a GP or practice nurse when they need to.
And with general practice now offering 340 million appointments a year, the Royal College estimates that 34 million will miss out.
That is a rise of 3.4 million since the survey a year earlier, which showed 9% reported they were unable to book an appointment.
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the RCGP, told Sky News care is being compromised.
"People do need to see a GP as soon as possible for right action to be taken and the right treatment to be delivered," she said.
"And this is a worry we have: that the lack of access to GPs might be making some problems worse."
The College blames a real-terms funding cut of £9bn for GP services since 2004/05, leaving surgeries unable to hire the staff they need to meet rising demand.
It says GPs have already provided an extra 40 million appointments, but are now struggling.
Dr Baker warned: "The unprecedented decline in funding for healthcare in the community has brought general practice to its knees. GPs can't keep doing more for less."
The RCGP and the National Association for Patient Participation are urging the Government and NHS England to increase GPs' share of the budget to 11% by 2017 - up from 8.5% now.
The concerns were echoed by Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association and a GP in Swindon.
"We can't give a gold-plated service to all of our patients on a share of the resources which is dropping so significantly," he said.
"We have had a 25% cut in resources in general practice to look after patients who are sicker, who are more complex, and who are taking more of our time and attention. Something has got to give."
By switching to a GP-callback system his practice has reduced the number of patients who need a face-to-face appointment.
That has helped to deal with rising demand, but it's not a long term solution, Dr Swinyard said.
Susannah Fernandez, who brought in her two-year-old daughter Olivia because of a chest infection, said waiting times at the surgery were long.
"There used to be days when you could queue outside," she said.
"Waiting in the cold was not ideal. And then it would be pot luck what time you were seen.
"Obviously children get bored quite quickly too, so waiting in a waiting room was not ideal."
But the Department of Health dismissed the RCGP's claims.
A spokesperson said: "It's complete nonsense to suggest that 34 million people won't be able to get an doctor's appointment this year.
"Misleading extrapolations of partial data have been used to generate a sensationalist headline.
"The GP Survey showed the vast majority of patients are satisfied with their GP and rated their experience of making an appointment as good."
The Department of Health is providing £50m to help modernise general practices and allow them to stay open longer.
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