One in 10 people are waiting at least three weeks to see a GP, new figures have shown, causing increased distress for patients and higher costs for the NHS.
Data released by NHS Digital shows that in October, 2.8 million people were not seeing a doctor until at least 21 days after they had booked an appointment.
Of those, 1.4 million waited more than 28 days, reports the Press Association.
The figures also show that more than a million people are failing to turn up to their scheduled appointments each month – equating to around one in 20.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said it was “frustrating” that patients were having to wait “too long” to secure a GP appointment.
“We want to deliver timely care to patients, in the early stages of illness, to avoid conditions getting worse, when they can be both more distressing for patients, and more costly for the NHS,” she said.
“We also want the time to deliver care for patients – for many who are living with multiple, long-term conditions, the standard 10-minute consultation is no longer fit for purpose – but offering longer consultations, means offering fewer, and as this data shows, patients are struggling to get an appointment as it is.”
She also urged people to let their GP surgery know if they are unable to attend an appointment to avoid wasting resources.
The NHS figures, published for the first time, include data from 90% of GP practices in England and estimate that 307 million appointments took place between November 2017 and the end of October.
Doctors are seeing around one million patients every day, with Mondays shown to be the busiest day of the week.
Overall, 10.3% of patients waited more than three weeks for an appointment in October, compared to 9.4% in November 2017.
However, four in 10 patients were able to book a same-day appointment, while more than two-thirds were seen within a week.
Experts say the figures include patients who need regular appointments and are likely to be booking ahead.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “GPs are working hard to provide high-quality care to their patients, with over a million appointments booked every week day in October and 40% of patients being seen on the same day.
“We are also rolling out extended access hours across the country to ensure that patients can find appointments in the evenings and at weekends, making it easier for people to see a doctor, nurse or other health professional at a time convenient to them.”
Earlier this month, a survey for the RCGP found nearly a third of GPs said they were likely to leave their roles within five years, as experts warned stress and huge workloads were forcing many to quit the profession.