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EDITIONS
Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 00:58 GMT 01:58 UK
Patients wait days to see GPs
GP examines patient
GPs are expected to offer 48-hour access by 2004
Patients are waiting days to get an appointment to see their GP even for urgent or emergency conditions, a survey suggests.

Research by Which? magazine shows that just half of patients are able to see their GP within one day of trying to make an appointment.

But one in five has to wait at least five days and one in 10 waits more than a week to get a consultation.


Many patients can't get to see a GP quickly even for urgent conditions or emergencies

Helen Parker, Which? editor
The findings raise doubts over government plans to ensure all patients can see a GP within 48 hours by 2004.

The survey of 1,232 adults carried out in June suggests that even those who believe they need to see their GP urgently are forced to wait.

Long waits

It shows that just over half of those with an urgent condition or emergency were seen on the same day.

Almost a third had to wait two days while one in eight was waiting five days or more.

The survey also reveals sharp variations in waiting times across the countries.

Just 28% of patients in Scotland can get an appointment on the same day. This compares to 52% in England and Wales.

The government has pledged that patients who are trying to get an appointment to see their GP will have to be seen within 48 hours by 2004.

Doctors have criticised the target as unrealistic. Which? magazine said it showed that many would probably fail to meet the target.


Given the workforce crisis, it is not possible for every GP to see every patient who wants to be seen within 48 hours in line with the government's plan

BMA spokeswoman
Helen Parker, editor of Which? said: "Our survey and official figures suggest that the government is unlikely to meet its target that, by 2004, patients in England should be able to see a GP within two working days."

She added: "Many patients can't get to see a GP quickly even for urgent conditions or emergencies.

"The wait is even longer for those who asked to see a particular doctor and we found how long you wait can be a bit of a lottery, depending on where you live."

According to the survey, patients want GPs to offer same-day appointments and to open their surgeries in the evenings and at weekends.

Pushing ahead

Dr John Oldham, head of the National Primary Care Development Team which is trying to get all practices to offer appointments within 48 hours, said he was not surprised by the findings.

But he added that changing the way practise are organised could enable GPs to meet the government's targets.

"We are peddling as fast as we can so that every patient in England can access a GP within 48 hours."

But the British Medical Association said the findings highlighted the shortage of GPs across the UK.

A spokeswoman said: "The Which? survey demonstrates the effects of the critical shortage of family doctors in the UK, there simply are not enough GPs to go round," she said.

"Given the workforce crisis, it is not possible for every GP to see every patient who wants to be seen within 48 hours in line with the government's plan."

Mike Stone, of the Patients' Association, said: "It is very important that people do get to see doctors when they really need to but it is also about patients' responsibility to only see a GP when they need to."

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "It is clear that the government's target is little more than a wish list, designed to get good publicity for Labour ministers."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow added: "This target is way too simple to be effective."

See also:

03 Oct 02 | Scotland
03 Jul 01 | BMA Conference
19 Dec 00 | Health
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