If you’ve ever found yourself relentlessly pressing the call button to phone your GP, only to get beeped at before the call abruptly ends, you’re not alone. In fact, new figures show almost one in three people can’t get through to their GP by phone.
Many of us have been there. In the office, we’ve heard stories of people forgoing the phone call altogether to queue up outside their GP practice first thing – the only way to guarantee an appointment (and because the sheer frustration of trying and failing to get through on the phone was just too much).
New figures show that among patients who attempted to call their GP, three in 10 (31.7%) said it wasn’t easy to get through. Meanwhile of those who wanted a same-day appointment, more than a third (37.9%) didn’t get one. Data from NHS Digital in 2018 found one in 10 of us has had to wait at least three weeks to see a GP.
The figures from the latest NHS Survey paint a picture of an increasingly stretched health service. Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust, said England is experiencing the first prolonged fall in GPs per person in 50 years. “Measures of how easy it is to get an appointment are sliding across the board,” she said.
It’s not all doom and gloom, of course. The survey, which included responses from 770,000 patients, found most people (82.9%) rated their overall experience of their GP practice as good, with more than two in five (45.2%) rating their experience as ‘very good’. But if a third of us can’t get the appointment in the first place or we can’t access one until a month’s time, we have a problem.
So what else can you do to seek the medical help you need?
Rising numbers of patients are booking their GP appointments online, with 15% using GP websites to get an appointment, up 2% on 2018.
However, awareness of the service is still quite low. Two in five patients were unsure whether these services were available at their GP practice, while less than one in 10 patients believed that none of these options were available.
Try An Online GP
As appointments become harder to obtain, more people are opting to go private with apps like Babylon proving popular. The service offers video consultations via smartphones with NHS GPs in London and Birmingham 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is designed to make healthcare more accessible to busy individuals.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told HuffPost UK that while they can be effective – particularly for young, generally healthy people who want to see a GP quickly – patients should make sure they properly understand what they are signing up to. “Often they will be having consultations with unfamiliar GPs who don’t have access to any of their medical records,” she explained.
She advises that people taking this route ensure the service they are using is based in the UK, is using GPs registered with the General Medical Council, and has been inspected and approved by the Care Quality Commission – or equivalent bodies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. “You should also look into how your personal information will be kept safe; and check if you are receiving a free NHS service or if a payment will be required,” she said.
From 2021, all patients will also have a new right to access their GP’s practice through a video consultation, the NHS has said.
Call NHS 111
NHS 111 should be the first port of call for those with urgent health needs or questions, according to the NHS. As well as being able to book you into a local GP or NHS urgent treatment centre if required, it can also advise on the most appropriate action people can take, whether that’s a home visit, self-care or seeing a pharmacist.
Head To A Walk-In Centre
Walk-in centres are great for minor ailments and injuries – so issues like minor ear, nose and throat problems; sprains and strains; minor burns; insect and animal bites; and mild stomach pains. Most walk-in centres are open seven days a week and don’t require pre-booked appointments.
Speak To A Pharmacist
If you have a minor illness, consider visiting a local pharmacist instead of your GP. They are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses including coughs, colds, teething, rashes and stomach upset.
Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions – such as coughs and ‘tummy troubles’ – at a cost of more than £850m each year to the NHS.
But around 95% of people live within a 20 minute walk of a local community pharmacy, making them extremely accessible and a valuable first port of call for minor health concerns.