/ 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?


My surgery refuses to use email because it would increase insurance costs. Sooner or later the failure to provide alternatives to telephone is going to create a situation where a patient suffers from a failure to get through and sues the practice.

Mr Steen, you’ve obviously not heard that the majority of our wonderful nation’s beloved GeePees have all been to the ********************************* which teaches that a customer is someone to whom one should make the highly generous offer of seeing them any day of the week as long as it’s never on a Saturday, never on a Sunday, never a Bank Holiday, not before 9am, not after 5pm and absolutely not without several days notice. The only exceptions being when you’re really ill and can’t actually get to see them – on these occasions they’ll gladly see you in their surgery (called the local hospital).

Another similarity with our friends at BG is that both they and GPs make loads of money from those of us who pay them to provide us a merely average level of service.

Sue Shaw says:
25 March 2011

At my GP surgery you can only ring at 10am for an appointment (very urgent requests may get an appointment the same day if your’e lucky, after a grilling from the receptionist). Of course, everyone is trying to ring at the same time so it takes 15 minutes or more to get through. Once through, more often than not there are no more appointments left so you have to ring again at 10am the following day and so it continues. If you are lucky enough to be offered an appointment it is usually in 14 days time. If you then create a fuss an appointment may appear in 5 days. On one occasion after coming home after major surgery I needed to see my GP to check my condition and my medication. It was 17 days before I could see him, where is the continuity. When I spoke to the practise manager about this he said my GP was a busy man. I’ve known people resort to A & E because they can’t get an appointment with a GP.

My previous GP (I’ve moved, but not because of them!) didn’t used to do appointments other than ring at 8am. Which is when I needed to leave the house to get to work on time.

You couldn’t get urgent appointments. You could book one for 2 days in advance.

I then got the GP questionnaire and made my opinion known (as much as you can in the closed questions). They then started offering ‘within 48 hours’. So you’d get an appointment in 2 days. You still couldn’t book ahead of that, unless the doctor came out and insisted to the receptionist.

For anything fairly urgent, such as need antibiotics today rather than in 2 days, I would go to the walk-in clinic near work. After all, that’s what they’re there for.

Now I’ve moved the surgery has 8-8 appointments, seems to have fairly flexible appointment booking times – I’ve not needed an ’emergency’ appointment, but have managed to get a travel jabs one for 4 weeks time. They also do blood tests there. It’s first-come-first-served, but if you get there 30 mins before you don’t have to wait long.

The only downside I can (so far) see it that it’s 20 mins walk from home. My last doctor’s was 3! Which if you’re feeling pretty rough is not so great. Still – can’t win ’em all!

Booking online with My G.P.’s surgery hasn’t been easy & By the phone resently its not worked for weeks,

They finally changed the number to an more pricey 0845 kind of number, But it seems to allow patients to book appointments now, Sadly only for days or weeks in advance, Although You can only use the auto telephone booking services while the surgery’s open :/ 🙁

Dan James says:
30 March 2011

My wife and I find it completely useless to try and arrage an appointment by phone so we have to drive a round trip of five miles to make one. I think it’s time G.Ps were put on a pay by results system, ie paid so much per patients seen per day– CRUMBS wouldn’t we see some marvellous results then in fact they would be ringing us to call in and take this check up or that tablet change would suit you better Mrs Jones. After all they must keep their 4×4 Landrover Discovery on the road not to say the old Glof club membership. When you think that some of them can earn more than £350.000 per year should we not expect a much better standard of service for such a big slice of NHS cake. GPs are fast loosing what used to be a high standing in the hearts and minds of the people, they are in danger of being looked upon as lower even than MPs they certainly seem to milk the system just as much. But as is usual with many ills in our society we are but a lone voice crying in the wilderness and NOTHING WILL GET DONE ANYWAY!!!

PsR says:
12 April 2011

At my local surgery you can only book an appointment to see your GP for the same day and tbh the last time i saw my GP through a booked appointment was ….. well i don’t actually remember. Half 8 this morning(their opening time) I contacted my surgery, as I have done many other days, and already at the point of being able to make appointments they were apparently fully booked. This is not acceptable!!!

trevor inckle says:
24 April 2011

as i had to phone for an appointment at 8am i rang the surgery whilst at work using my mobile.having got through i was number 13 in a queue and by the time i got through to speaking to the receptionist iwas told the first available appointment was in the afternoon three days later.iwanted an evening slot so i would not have to take time off work.this call cost me £7.disgusting.

myrtaon says:
30 May 2011

My surgery is open is open 12 hrs a day you can get an app at 7 am to 7 pm.You may not be able to see your own Doctor on the day but you will be able to see a Doctor that day also you can book online.

Larry Stuart says:
10 June 2011

My health centre in Glasgow has adopted the 48 hour appointment system where if you are lucky you may get to see the doctor of your choise, then again if you are unlucky you may get to see your doctor in two weeks time, we could be dead by that time, when I asked to see the health centre Manager to argue against this system I could not get passed the receptionist, it apears that the centre manager is not to be annoyed by the likes of any customer who may want to complain, there again this seems to be the way our Health Centre is going.

Abdel says:
20 June 2011

I only see my GP once every 2 years. last time i was so ill that i could not even move ,i had pains and red spots all over my body. i called the first day and was told that there was no appointment and to try another day. i called again the next day and exactly the same response, the third day i called i was told that i do not even exist then when i insisted on complaining i was told that they had 2 accounts in my name and i was put on hold for 40 minutes then the call was dropped. i must have tried 8 times. then i decided to email the practice manager who then called me and apologised and made an appointment the next day. I went there and still had to wait more then 1 hour. My doctor made an appointment to have a scan at my local hospital. 2 weeks gone and i am still waiting. Today i called to make an appointment for my son. i was told it would be sometimes next month. when i said that my son has been coughing for over a month ,i was told to go to A&E. The whole system is a joke and i worked for a hospital and know how the system works. sad indeed.

iv been ill 5 months now and iv given up with my gp surgery having to wait 3 weeks to see my gp and sometimes 4 weeks how ridiculous is that so i had no choice but to go private and pay for treatment i couldnt afford but it probably saved my life i ended up having meningitis which id been told by my gp was depression.after effects could stay with me for life because of the time taken to diagnose me the damage was done and oh yes i feel bitter way to go nhs thanks for ruining my life

Vicky says:
16 May 2012

Ive just tried to get an appointment with my local practice (not specifically with my own gp) but any doctor and can’t get an appointment untill the 12th of June, thats almost a month away. I will have to use holiday to book a day off work for it! Let’s hope it’s nothing serious! I’m seriously considering going private as the nhs can’t seem to cope!

Larry says:
16 May 2012

Both my wife and I had to change our doctors practice, we found the same problem as Vicky, go for an appointment and you get the same story every time you go, at least one month between booking and getting to see any doctor, the doctors of the practice we were in acted as if they were doing you a favour, they forget who is paying for the service, I may add we were both in the same practice for about 45 years, forget loyalty from your doctor.

Paul Hudson says:
25 July 2012

All the GP’s I know…and its quite a few in the west country, are all on £150k – £200K plus a year and they all only work three and a half days a week. The GPs are overpaid gatekeepers. They do nothing most of the time other than refer to AandE. They have conned successive governments. Why do you think a big percentage of the country’s most expensive schools and populated with the children of GP’s?

Hannah says:
26 July 2012

I have been trying for 3 weeks to get an appointment at the doctors, I have phoned this morning and the earliest available slot is on the 8th August – that’s two weeks away. It is ridiculous I work full time and very rarely get an opportunity to have the time to see a doctor so when I take a full day’s holiday I expect to be able to go to my doctors, especially seen as I have been a patient there since I was born. 3 – 4 weeks could be the difference between being able to identify something serious and removing it or letting it get worse and being more serious.

Landerleen says:
8 August 2012

today 08/08/2012 rang to make an appointment & was told the first available was 04/09/2012, this is unacceptable in a surgery where there are numerous doctors, we also cannot make appointments in advance for problems that worry us when you work it is essential to be able to book. When sick by the time you get to see the doctor you are either dead or in hospital!

If you urgently need to see a doctor then this is no good. My own GP’s surgery offers ‘some’ same day appointments, presumably for urgent cases. I have only needed to ask for this once, but have had next-day appointments several times. They have a good website that explains the various options for getting appointments.

My previous GP was a one-man practice and would always see anyone prepared to wait until the end of the surgery, five days a week. The only exception was when he was on holiday, when a locum would take over and give the same service. The PCT decided to close the surgery because they considered it out of date and inefficient. 🙂

It is easy to change your GP, but do get a recommendation first.

kate says:
23 August 2012

well i now know we are not alone with doctors appointments i phone to try and get one and the receptionist askes what it is about when i say that it is between me and my doctor she says the doctor will phone me to see if it warrants an appointment my husband and myself have not seen a doctor in person for that long, is it because we are pensioners and that they dont want to know anymore or care for that matter

Larry says:
23 August 2012

I read through all comments and I notice nothing has changed, why does that not surprise me, well if you write to the health minister, in Scotland, you get a reply from a side kick who does nothing to help, so no surprise there.