Two thirds of patients fail to get GP’s appointment within 48 hours

Two thirds of NHS patients cannot get an appointment with their GP within 48 hours, a wide ranging report by the healthcare watchdog has found- and the situation is getting worse as last year 80 per cent of patients could see their GPs within 48 hours.

The most comprehensive study of its kind has shown that millions of people are being failed by their local surgeries.

Under key NHS targets, patients should be able to see their family doctor within two working days. However, the report said that just one third of people were able to see their GP within this time.

The findings come at a time when the relationship between patients and their doctors is already under strain.

There has been widespread anger over the large pay rises enjoyed by GPs under the new contract.

And ministers and GPs have been locked in bitter negotiations about forcing surgeries to open for extended hours, offering appointments into the evening, early in the morning and on Saturdays.

Gary Needle, at the Healthcare Commission, said: “Patients are not getting sufficient access to their GPs is the message from this measure.”

Andrew Lansley, Shadow Health Secretary said: “Despite all their talk, Labour are still failing patients when it comes to choice and access to a GP.

“It’s appalling that in seven out of ten areas, people aren’t able to see their doctor within 48 hours when they wish. It shows the utter failure of Labour’s top-down targets to bring about the best results for patients.”

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: “For years people have known that ministers’ complacent assurances about how easy it was to see a GP were wrong.

“At last a proper assessment has taken place so we can see the reality of the situation. This scandalous finding must force the Government to act now.”

Last year the report found that 80 per cent of patients were able to see their GPs within 48 hours.

However, the data was gathered by using ‘mystery patients’ to carry out spot checks to see if they could get an appointment rather than asking patients.

This year, for the first time, the commission included information from a patient survey. The report has sparked a row with doctors who have said the figures are misleading.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association said: “The report’s conclusion that there has been a dramatic decline in primary care trusts meeting the GP 48-hour access target is misleading.

“There has been such significant change in the way the research has been compiled compared to last year that it is impossible to compare the data for the two years in question. The access figures are even more confusing when you consider that a recent survey showed almost 9 out of 10 patients were satisfied that they were able to get an appointment within 48 hours.

“GPs are working hard to offer as much flexibility as they can to patients, as well as providing speedy access, and delivering an expanding range of services to patients.”

The latest figures show the average annual earnings of GPs, who are paid to hit the targets on appointments, are £103,530 – a drop of 2.6 per cent on last year after years of rising pay. They also showed 258 doctors earned more than £250,000 before tax last year.

The commission’s healthcheck is an in-depth investigation into the NHS with each hospital trust, primary care trust, mental health trust and ambulance trust measured on waiting times, hygiene, confidentiality, management of records, reducing deaths from cancer and heart disease, cutting superbug rates and treating patients with dignity and respect.

While the report found there had been improvements in many areas, it found that infection control was a serious problem with ‘lapses at almost every trust visited’ and six out of ten trusts failing on at least one measure.

The Commission warned that other infections such as norovirus – the winter vomiting bug that reached record levels last winter – should be included in the measures in the future alongside Clostridium difficile and MRSA.

Of the 114 trusts that failed on at least one infection control measure, 11 said they were compliant only for this to be overturned by inspectors.

There is concern about infection control in community hospitals, district nursing, ambulances and midwifery and these areas will have extra focus in the next inspections.

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