/ Health

Is it too hard to get an appointment with your GP?

Woman sick on phone

Have you ever been stuck on the phone trying to get an appointment at your doctor’s surgery, just to find that there aren’t any available? You’re not alone – millions of us have trouble booking a slot with our GP.

In a survey of two million people during 2010, a fifth said they found it difficult to make an appointment with their GP over the phone.

The GP Patient Survey also discovered that one in five people struggled to see their doctor ‘fairly quickly’, with the main cause being a lack of available appointments.

Due to NHS targets, you should be able to get an appointment with a GP or nurse within 48 hours. But, as we all know, we’re often not that lucky.

Our 2009 investigation found that 39% of people in the UK (or around 13 million people) had to make several attempts to get through to their surgery by phone. Thankfully, the GP Patient Survey suggests that this percentage has dropped.

Knowing when to call

Most of the time, it’s about knowing when to call. I’ve always made sure to ring early in the morning to ensure a consultation on the same day. However, this also creates problems.

Almost half of the population is required to call their surgery first thing to get a slot. This influx makes it more difficult for people to get through, as they’re competing with fellow patients for a free phone line.

For instance, my friend battled to get through to her local practice last week. When she finally did, she was told that there were no appointments for the next three weeks! Of course, like most working people, she was after an evening appointment, which are a tad difficult to get hold of. Yet these are the slots that many of us want – in our 2009 survey, half of the 2,400 people we asked wanted appointments outside of 9am to 5pm.

Is the system flawed?

So do you think there is an inherent problem with the way GP appointments have to be made in the UK? Jo Webber, deputy policy director of the NHS Confederation, emphasises the importance of being able to use your GP practice:

‘Patients need to be able to access their GP easily otherwise there is a serious risk they will add to the already considerable pressures faced by A&E departments and 999 services.’

How many times have you tried unsuccessfully to get through to your GP, or been told you can only phone to book appointments at certain times of day?

Lesley Malton says:
19 August 2020

My g.p surgery has been excellent to me.I know I am very lucky.However,the rudeness of some g.p’s I have experienced at a previous surgery ten years ago,was alarming. I don’t understand why some are successful and know how to treat serious illness,and others aren’t.In these times of Covid,my current surgery offer telephone appointments,which happen within 48 hours or less,and the g.p will decide whether things need to be taken further.It is a large practice,which appears to function efficiently.I know many people who don’t receive a functional g.p service.There shouldn’t be any excuses.

I tried to get an appointment with a doctor (or at least to be able to speak to a doctor on the phone) and have been fobbed off with a nurse for a condition which is complex and potentially serious. I’ve already been prescribed something by a nurse, which has not worked. I phoned in at 8.05am as doctors’ appointments are given on a daily basis, and was told that all the doctors’ slots for today had gone. Frankly I do not believe this.

Hi Rita – If you can get another appointment with the nurse and they can see that your condition has not improved, I hope you will be referred to the GP. If not I suggest calling the NHS ‘111’ number for advice. Best of luck.