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Do you get long enough with your GP? Are you at risk? PDF Print Email

The British Medical Association (BMA) have claimed patients may be at risk as their consultation with their GP is too brief.  They claim the safety of patients is at risk because GPs are forced to conduct consultations in 10 minutes and serious issues cannot be covered in that time and are calling for more support and funding so GPs can spend at least 15 minutes with their patients.

 

This is at a time when GPs are already under pressure from a shortage of doctors and funding cuts across the NHS.

 

NHS England said the amount of time doctors spend with patients is up to them and there are no national guidelines suggested or enforced.  Whether this takes into account the practicalities of a GPs everyday workload is open to debate.

 

Having said that the NHS Choices website states that "GPs spend an average of 8-10 minutes with each patient" and advises patients to "plan ahead to make sure you cover everything you want to discuss".

 

That is, of course, if you can get an appointment without too much trouble.  In many areas you have to ring on the morning you want an appointment, you cannot book one in advance but have to call that day.  Then when you call at 8.30 or 9 am or whatever your particular surgery of health centre stipulates the phone line/s are engaged and you keep calling until free and then find all the appointments for the day are already gone!  Is there not a more sensible or convenient way to organise GP appointments?

 

The BMA published a report earlier this month called "safe working in general practice" which wanted a reorganisation of the entire system and warned that GPs face "unsustainable pressure" from increasing workload and staff shortages.

The BMA said the report was intended to "stimulate discussion" and put forward a "model that could be used by localities across the UK".

A GP in Cheshire, Dr Nicola Hulme, said she found NHS England's statement that there is no limit nationally on the amount of time that can be spent with a patient "insulting".

 

"With the high levels of demand, we have to run 10-minute appointments," she said.  "To offer longer with the same number of appointments would extend our day to beyond the 12 hours we currently routinely work. "I often run late so I can deal thoroughly with my patients' issues. "Paperwork gets started routinely after 7pm. I rarely get home before 8pm, having started generally at 7.30am. "Nobody goes into medicine for an easy ride, we are all hard workers, but the intensity and the demand are now at unsafe levels."

 

Dr Ali Alibhai, a GP from London, said GPs now had to manage so many chronic diseases such as diabetes that an appointment for as little as eight minutes was "not appropriate any more for safe patient care".


The population is getting older and living longer and Dr Brian Balmer, of the BMA's GPs' committee, said many patients had difficult and complicated conditions, often multiple conditions, that needed longer to treat.  He issued a warning that many GPs had to cut short care and deliver an "unsafe number of consultations".

He said that appointments should be limited to 25 a day, about the same number recommended in many other countries across Europe.  Dr Balmer added: "We need a new approach that shakes up the way patients get their care from their local GP practice. "The consultation time needs to increase to 15 minutes with the government providing on its promised funding to make this work."


NHS England said that it was up to doctors and the tie allocated to appointments was "at the discretion of individual GP practices, based on patient need, and there are no national limits suggesting 10 minutes should be the norm".  It accepted that GPs were "under pressure", and said it was "substantially increasing investment and reforming care to free up GPs to spend more time with patients".


There used to be a rule that GP appointments in England must be for at least 10 minutes but it was scrapped in 2013.

 

It may well depend on your condition or needs but if you are having difficulty getting an appointment with your GP you may find your local pharmacy can provide much needed support or help, at least in the first instance.