2017 will be dominated by Brexit but we shouldn’t lose sight of the real pressures facing our NHS, whatever your politics, writes Keiran Pedley
Until 2016, I was typical of many thirty-somethings in that I had little need to see my local GP too often. This year that changed. Due to a recurring issue I found myself having to see the GP more regularly. Nothing critical, I’m fine, but this experience opened my eyes to a real problem and prompted me to want to find out more. In this post, I want to share my experience, start a debate and hopefully win some support for a petition I have started.
The issue I want to talk about is the availability of GP appointments in the UK.
In my experience this year I have found making an appointment a struggle. It can take two weeks or more to get an appointment and not just in isolated circumstances. On the first couple of occasions I put it down to hard luck and thought little of it. However as the year progressed I continued to have the same experience. On speaking to friends and family, I have found that others have had the same experience (or worse) yet some experience no issue at all – a real ‘postcode lottery’. I decided to dig deeper.
A real problem that is getting worse
Recent headlines, buried between celebrity deaths and Trump’s latest tweets, have convinced me that something is happening that requires more attention. The incoming head of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, has warned that patients run the risk of having to wait up to a month to see a GP in crunch periods. Her warning comes after a survey of GPs in 2016 estimated that the average waiting time for a GP appointment was approximately 13 days and getting longer. Another survey published in 2016, the respected GP-Patient survey conducted by Ipsos Mori, estimated that one in five wait a week or longer for an appointment with the trend moving in the wrong direction (sample size n=124,235 patients).
Table 1: Time taken to see a GP (one week or more)
Source: Ipsos Mori GP-Patient Survey.
It is clear from these findings that many patients are waiting more than a week to get a GP appointment and the problem is getting worse. These figures and Dr Stokes-Lampard’s warning should concern us all. The longer it takes to see a GP, the more patients are put at risk (with non-urgent problems potentially becoming urgent), the greater the pressure placed on A&E departments and the harder it is to genuinely create a health service based on preventative care. Both the scale of the problem and the direction of travel are worrying and there is a very real risk that this issue gets buried in 2017, whilst the government understandably is preoccupied by Brexit.
Take action – support our petition
So what can we do about it? As a start, I have created a petition calling on the government to set a target that everyone should be able to see a GP within 48 hours of making an appointment and I am asking for your support. The purpose of this petition is not to apportion blame or to start a party political row. Nor is it to pretend that there is an easy solution. In starting this petition, I want to raise awareness of the problem and try to place it further up the political agenda. But I can’t do that without help.
I urge everyone to support this petition – even if your personal situation locally is fine. Perhaps you weren’t aware of this problem before today because you were unaffected. However, it is clear that there is a problem and it will get worse unless political leaders are put under pressure to address it. One petition won’t solve the problem alone but with enough backing it can at least get MPs talking about it and that is step in the right direction. The 48 hour target may be ambitious but right now the most important thing is to change the direction of travel and for that reason I ask you to support this petition.
How you can help.
We would also encourage you to share this petition with your friends and family on Facebook or by email so that we can try and get as many signatures as possible.
For further info contact Keiran on twitter at @keiranpedley
Thanks for your support.