/ 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 Green says:
24 June 2015

I tried to make an appointment with my GP only to be told I couldn’t get in to to see one for five weeks I couldn’t help but laugh. She said if it’s an emergency the doctor could ring me back so i explained to the receptionists my problem and she classed it an emergency appointment . So I waited all day with my phone next to me only to have a phone call from the receptionists to say the doctor had been called out on an emergency and would call me back in the morning. So all day I waited yet again for a phone call from the doctor, eventually the next day I received a missed call at 6.50 in the evening with a message from my GP apologising for the delay , and could I ring the following morning to see if I can get in because it’s clear I need to see a doctor. I do understand doctors are really busy but to me this is ridiculous . So I have now decided to. Change to a different doctors surgery which is a real shame because I’ve been at this surgery for 25 years.

Susan says:
2 November 2015

I have had the some problem with my Doctors. You have to ring at 8am to get an appointment. So i did and the phone rang and rang when you get the secretary she said’s sorry you will have to try again tomorrow all the appointments have gone. Its my back I tell her but she said’s take some pain killers and ring back tomorrow like I haven’t taken some pain killers. In the end I had an ambulance at my door with gas and air a few day later. Why can I not make an appointment when I need one it puts me off ever phoning them . I will always now think twice about doing so again and I could end up in a worst state.

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At my surgery I rang at 8oclock am got through at 8.05to make an appointment to see a woman doctor only to be told that there were no women doctors available so I asked for a male doctor to which the reply from the receptionist was we have no male doctors either to which I replied if you do not get me an appointment I am writing to my local MP with that she had a sit and wait app with a women doc.

I’ve got an inflamed gallbladder. I know that’s what it is but the earliest GP appointment is in two weeks time and I’m in a lot of pain. All I need is an ultrasound to confirm it. No wonder A and E Departments are feeling the strain, because you have to go there because you have to wait so long to see a GP!

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Jeremy says:
1 May 2016

I just don’t understand it here in UK, why is it so bad? I’m from Australia living in London and when i first registered for a doctor i was told i would have to wait 2 – 3 weeks. So you have to know in advance if you’re going to be sick? I had been terribly i’ll for 3 days , fever, vomiting, diarrhea etc, so i decided to go to a walk in clinic instead where after waiting 5 hours i was told that i didn’t really need to see a doctor and i would only be seeing a nurse. Upon explaining my symptoms the nurse she asked me if i had eaten out in the last 3 days, after i replied that i hadn’t eaten out at all, she just out of no where looked me straight in the face and said exactly this “Why are you trying to deny it could be something you have eaten?”. I was literally just speechless. Anyway a long story short, she prescribed me water. I then went across the road to the chemist and asked if they had anything to settle my stomach and diarrhea and she just looked at me and said you need to see a doctor, i literally just laughed.

In Australia you don’t have to register with a doctor, you can just ring any clinic and make an appointment, only sometimes if you’re ringing after midday you might not be able to get an appointment on the same day, and if you can’t you can just go to a walk-in clinic and be seen by a doctor within an hour, a doctor! not a damn nurse! Not to mention most doctors surgeries are open saturday and sundays too, here seems they are all closed on the weekend.

Plus lately there have been so many horror stories in the UK of patients been sent home from hospital with paracetamol after seeing a doctor for symptoms of high fever, vomting etc only to die a few hours later from meningitis. One patient even had all the classic symptoms and the RASH and the doctor sent her home with paracetamol where she later died.

Health care system here is absolutely crazy, i’m afraid to see a doctor in UK. My parter is Lithuanian and i had to see a doctor and endocrinologist there 2 years ago as i just found out i had graves disease, and i can tell you with out a doubt the health care system in Lithuania is 100% better than here in UK.

I’ve seriously never seen anything like it.


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i have tried to get a GP appointment for the last week and again this morning. I have a problem with my eye which has been on going for over a month. I have done what we are advised to do speak to a pharmacist, been to an optician, tried several over the counter products recommended by pharmacist, now have been advised to seek treatment from Gp. How can i when i cant get an appointment. I am so worried in case it is something serious, i cant keep using antibiotic eyedrops to ease the problem as pharmacist says only to use them for 5days!!! What do i do now????

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Lucie says:
15 July 2016

At my GP surgery I’m pretty sure half the battle is wether the receptionist thinks your exaggerating ! A few months back I caught flu from my daughter, after a week the fever, headache and severe cough hadn’t subsided. I have asthma so knew it was a good idea to call to be sure I didn’t have a chest infection. I managed to be granted a telephone consultation with the nurse who oodly prescribed a nose spray thinking the head pain was actually my sinus’s (never had sinus issues) a week on no change but the cough was horrific with all sorts coming up. Called again got a telephone consultation with GP, he prescribed a low dose of antibiotic an said it’s most likely viral. 1 week on after feeling slight relief I started feeling extreemly wheezy with not much change to the cough. The 2nd day I called I demanded to see someone as I couldn’t see how my chest could be Assesed over the phone. Then I got an appointment with the nurse at the minor ailments clinic(minor difficulty breathing) I was straight away placed on a nebulizer, my sats were low and nurse said I had pneumonia. A month later still not feeling quite right my asthma meds were increased. 1 month on again another course of steroids and then they agreed I probably should have an xray. 5 hrs late they call saying I need a ct scan but will have to be in a waiting list. All this caused me severe anxiety and when I saw a dr and broke down he literally made me feel a complete waste of time. Since I’ve felt awful but am too embarrassed to go back so have to hope this is all just anxiety. As soon as my referals through I’ll be leaving that surgery as I have zero confidence in them

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Trying to get an appointment in my area (Cornwall) is harder than ever. It’s made me lose faith and feel daily that there is no point even trying. I’m currently experiencing Bipolar symptoms and I want to be able to get diagnosed with this, but this is impossible without seeing a GP first. You can ring every day, early in the morning for a week and you’d still get nowhere. Something has to change. This is a failing system.

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Have you tried sending a letter to the surgery Bez? I have found this was quite effective when my wife was ill. A doctor came round the next day.

I, too, have good experience from a case where the effort required to send a proper typewritten letter (complete with a “wet signature”) had a dramatically good effect in resolving problems with a particular practice.

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Quin says:
16 August 2016

Our local surgery now has no permanent doctors, all have resigned. It used to be an 11 doctor practice. In addition most of the nursing staff have left. It is a two branch practice and one branch now closes two afternoons a week and recently they closed it another full day due to lack of staff. Even reception staff are leaving because of the way the practice is being mismanaged.

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A number of general practices seem to be having difficulty retaining GP’s but for all of them at one surgery to resign and not be replaced by permanent doctors is very unusual, although perhaps recruitment is under way. The NHS Primary Care Commissioning Group for your area is responsible for the provision of general practices sufficient for the needs of the population and for the proper management of the services, but these Groups tend to be difficult to contact and engage with. Local newspapers are sometimes able to get information and relay this to local residents and some PCCG’s will issue statements but they are not noted for their openness. Your PCCG might have a website giving information on the current position and what it is doing about it. There could be malpractice issues at the root of what has happened in your area. The NHS is a branch of national government so I suggest you contact your Member of Parliament as the person most likely to be able find out the facts, inform constituents, and press for early resolution of whatever problem has caused this situation to develop. Local councillors can also apply pressure but the NHS is not under any obligation to answer to them in the same way as it is accountable to MP’s.

These mass resignations are not as unusual as you might imagine, John. And they’re part of a worrying trend.

Thanks, Ian. I thought such cases were isolated [there is a similar situation not far from us but there have been no references to other examples and I thought perhaps Quin’s report was related to that case]. Is there a common cause? Are practices becoming “incorporated” like schools are and doctors don’t want to work under those constraints? Perhaps the most recent changes to GP’s contracts have altered their attitude and commitment to community general practice. I agree, it is all rather disturbing.

I think the pressures and workloads on some local surgeries are becoming intolerable owing to a variety of factors. Anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that this explains the significant rise in patients and minor casualties presenting at A&E. In Norfolk, private medical care in independent hospitals, via day procedures and a standard menu of mainly orthopaedic treatments, appears to be booming and that trend must be attracting qualified personnel away from NHS service [although some of them also act as NHS consultants for part of their actual patient contact time].

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I don’t expect GPs to work long hours but I believe a GP surgery should offer long hours, with GPs working shifts. Plenty of other people do. After all, I can’t tell when I will be ill. I remember the days when if you needed it a GP would visit during the night. They are well paid, particularly since their contracts were enhanced.

Same theme – my car was broken into at around 7:30 pm. Rang the police – they were “closed”. Tried HQ – could not report it until the next day. Not interested in looking for the culprits who presumably know to plan their dastardly deeds after closing time.

I think general practice should operate 08:00 – 20:00 every day including weekends and bank holidays. It does not automatically mean doctors, nurses and ancillary staff working longer hours overall. Nor does it mean that the same levels of staffing will be necessary throughout the opening hours and some weekday sessions might be reduced to allow for the additional weekend ones. Equally it should not require the full receptionist, pharmacist and other support services throughout the weekends. I don’t see any attempt at backdoor privatisation through this policy – doctors are already self-employed in any case. If patients want to have private medical treatment at their entire expense I don’t understand any objections to that and, to the extent that it takes some of the pressure off the NHS, it is probably a good thing on balance.

David says:
7 February 2017

I have tried my doctors surgery 3 times in a month and have never been successful in getting an appointment! It’s getting worse, I called the GP in a big Chepstow surgery yesterday (5 February)in our local community hospital and was told the first available appointment was on 3 March! Outrageous!

Yes, it is outrageous. I cannot get an appointment within 6 weeks for my doctor and they will now only discuss one problem at a time. If you want to discuss another problem, you have to make another appointment.

We have hardly any full-time GPs at our surgery. Some are part time, and most partners spend time doing private work when they should be putting most of their working day into the local practice.

You hear doctors are bogged down with paper work. So what are practice managers for?

It is hardly any wonder A&Es are at breaking point. Where else can you go?

Many GP surgeries have the problem that people book appointments but don’t turn up or cancel too late to be very helpful. The last time I wanted an appointment I was asked if I could come an hour later, which I did. I can’t remember the last time I needed to see a GP urgently but my strategy would be to phone up and ask if there were any cancellations or just go to the surgery and wait.

Unless we commit more money to the NHS and try to cut down on wasted appointments I don’t see the situation improving.

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We certainly need to commit more money to the NHS for both medics and facilities. I think the existing facilities could probably absorb several thousand more doctors, nurses and other specialists if such people were available, but at the same time we need to start another major hospital building programme [as well as specialist units to take the pressure off general hospitals]. Additional resources for psychiatric conditions are also vital as failure there impacts on other medical services. It’s no good building hospitals until we have an adequate pipeline of professionals to staff them so training needs to be boosted. If all this was authorised now it would be at least seven years before we had the first new fully-staffed hospital. There is no time to waste while we argue over where any Brexit dividend will be used. We need a commitment now.

Alfa raises an interesting point about the abstraction of general practitioners into private work and certainly the number of people seeking private health care seems to be on the rise. To some extent this takes the pressure off the NHS and a lot of what private hospitals do would not be available under the NHS, or at least not as elective [or non-immediate or non-emergency] surgery. Nevertheless, they probably have a higher ratio of staff than NHS establishments and give more time to their patients so they ‘consume’ a disproportionate amount of the country’s finite professional medical resources. Concerns have been raised that many doctors and consultants have been trained by the the NHS but are then ‘selling’ their time to private patients or private hospitals.

We have reached the point where for many people the NHS cannot attend to their teeth, and some NHS Trusts are now saying that they will not replace people’s hip and knee joints unless they are in unbearable agony, so private clinics will no doubt spring up to satisfy that need. That numerous medical professionals and nurses are tied up doing unnecessary cosmetic procedures is another cause for concern.

I do get fed up with media criticism of a “failing NHS”; it’s not failing – it’s doing an incredibly good job in the circumstances. I also get fed up with my generation being blamed for living too long and putting a strain on the NHS. The failure of planning for the country’s future needs goes back to the early years of this century and cannot be laid at the door of the present government. The government either has to limit the rise in population, or invest in the resources to meet its demands, or do a bit of both. Doing neither has got us to where we are today.

My dentist sends me a text reminder a week before my appointment, then daily including the actual day inviting me to cancel if necessary although there will be a charge if cancelled within 48 hours.

When the majority of people have mobile phones, it would seem a sensible approach for doctors and hospitals to do the same.

On several occasions the NHS has screwed up and had to cancel an appointment both with GP and consultant. On each occasion, an alternative appointment has been made for within a week after having to wait maybe months to get one in the first place. Apparently these appointments are reserved in case private patients need them which begs the question how many appointments are wasted by the NHS?

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I can’t believe both hospital clinics and GP surgeries don’t overbook their appointments to offset any no-shows. I think patients who cannot attend an appointment should certainly telephone in advance and not just absent themselves.

I confess to having booked an appointment for a blood test recently and when I put it on my computer/phone forgot to set an alert. The surgery also failed to send a text reminder. Both worked this morning. GP surgeries and out-patient departments often have notices about the large number of failed appointments. In an ideal world everyone would turn up for appointments on time but few of us are perfect.

I used to have a GP who ran morning surgeries where you could book an appointment or just turn up and wait. It was on the way to work and if there was a queue I would try the following day. The Primary Care Trust closed the surgery because it was inefficient. The students and staff who were the main users of the surgery took on the PCT because we did not agree with this assessment, but the surgery was closed as planned.

John: hospital clinics do routinely overbook. It’s the only way they can meet ‘targets’.

I contacted my Gp Friday for appointment a 2 week wait. Call at 8.30 Monday for telephone consultation..called continuously from 8.30 to 9.05 . line busy. over 100 times I tried kept finger on call button theres no way other people got through only 1 line. So got to speak around 9.05 sorry all consultations are gone, try tomorrow. No place to leave comment on website, how convenient. I know NHS is stretched but theres no way that anyone got through the fone line was not busy they had it switched so could finish their coffee . I am raging

You could always call 111. If something is seen as urgent it seems they will deal with it. However, it is a disgrace when you cannot contact your surgery and speak to someone. Ours reserves urgent appointments on the day, has a duty doctor available, does telephone consultations and so far we’ve never had a problem.

However you have to be a little assertive at times, as the practice has to filter the needy cases from the less urgent. That should not be the case. If we feel something is wrong with our health we should be able to have it investigated quickly, before it either develops too far or to put our mind at rest.

Called at our local surgery at 10.30 to book a flu jab and Hep A booster. See the doctor 9.40 tomorrow. But then this is France which regularly is top with the UK according to the Commonwealth Society’s surveys.

Blood tests taken and results by mail to you and your doctor within three days. Efficient … I think they have put a lot of thought into systems that work efficiently.

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All this speculation about what might happen to the UK’s health services isn’t getting us anywhere. Since a high proportion of the staff in the NHS are fairly left-wing socialist sympathisers I don’t think any radical transfer of our hospitals to private companies is going to happen as any government that tried to do it would soon be out of office.

I am hoping the Republicans get a shock later today and we’ll have less of this “Donald rules the world” nonsense. We shall see.

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I expect you thought my reference to ‘left-wing socialist sympathisers’ was derogatory, Duncan, but that was not my intention.

The term covers a broad spectrum of political attitudes, including the Labour Party’s, but I do not wish to make any party political points, only to emphasise that dismantling the NHS will not happen without a bitter struggle and certainly not because Americans want to buy out our hospitals and doctors’ practices.

I don’t understand what the German Chancellor has to do with this.

The President of the USA does not rule the world, and most of the world does not obey. The President has no dialogue with most of the world and has even made himself persona non grata in the UK. As you say yourself, “Not many US citizens believe or trust their own government” – so why should anybody outside America?

I am not sure why you keep declaring that you have never voted Labour. It’s not a crime or a sin to do so; it bears no shame. What is the problem? And who is “Mr Somebody”? I don’t know who you mean. Nor am I familiar with the term “neo-con” that you use a lot. I find it difficult to take seriously people who talk in riddles.

I am not much interested in American politics but I do know there are significant differences between the policies of the two main parties.

Anyway, back to doctors and nurses now.

Helen Abell says:
15 May 2019

Just tried to book an appointment, and was told they have no bookable appointments AT ALL. I was advised to ring at 8am each morning and try and get one on the day.

Agree with @wavechange – if it is urgent phone 111.

Our practice moved to this system recently. Getting through is a nightmare although when you do there is usually an available appointment unlike previously for emergency appointments.

Another alternative might be to turn up at the surgery and hope that you can be fitted in. There are usually some patients that don’t turn up. A friend with an urgent problem was seen within ten minutes after turning up without an appointment.

Which? has advice on how to complain about unsatisfactory GP services: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/how-to-complain-if-youre-unhappy-with-your-gp-or-gp-surgery

Susan says:
21 June 2019

Needed to see gp with two heath issues but told can only discuss one! When I do get a call back with appointment time its very early morning and not even with my gp or practice which is a five minute drive away. So ive got M.E. and expected to get down town at 8.45,managed to get it for 9.30, cant drive, feel at my worse in the mornings, hubby now moaning as no where to park where this surgery is located. Ill have to drag myself down there I guess. Was told there’s a way you can book appointments on line now so will ask to be registered with this option, does this method ensure your be seen by your own local gp practice I wonder. Feel for those especially elderly who cant use computers, Seems it doesn’t matter who you ring lately first sentence seems to be you can do this on line. Not every one can though.

Our GP surgery is the same Susan so I sympathise with you. They won’t let you book long appointments either so you can discuss more than one problem.

Louise Wilson says:
25 July 2019

Needed to make quite an urgent appointment for my partner who is clearly sick (not 999 level of sick, but ill enough for his everyday life to be suddenly and significantly effected). No appointments for 5 weeks! My surgery has merged with 5 others as part of an “imporvement programme” where we should have access to all doctors/appointments at all surgeries. So all 5 surgeries have no appointments for 5 weeks. My partner cannot wait this long as this is impacting on his work life too. Looks as if we will need to phone the emergency out of hours doctor or waste the time of ED. I understand that we are in the middle of the summer period, but surely staffing should be apporiately managed? With a heat wave just beginning, ED will only come under more strain. I have been registered with this surgery for 2.5 years and have had mistakes made with every appointment and prescription. They clearly cannot cope.

Hi Louise – I suggest you phone 111 and I expect they will offer prompt help. If you live near an urgent treatment centre they may be able: https://www.nhs.uk/using-the-nhs/nhs-services/urgent-and-emergency-care/when-to-visit-an-urgent-care-centre/

Lorna Newbury says:
14 August 2019

I have not seen a GP for 18mths as I’m constantly told no appts for 6wks then I can’t book as too far in advance!! I’m disabled & suffer very high blood pressure but no joy with an appointment. I haven’t been able to get my repeat prescriptions as when it’s time for review I can’t get appt!! I had 3 falls last Yr the last was v bad but was told by receptionist not an emergency! I’ve totally given up as far to stressful trying

Hi Lorna – Please will you phone 111 and explain the problems you are having.

I’ve been hitting my head up against a brick wall struggling to get a gp appointment for a long time. Although I have moved to a new city and have only been seen once in almost a year. I haven’t had any luck with getting an appointment (same with the last surgery I was with) and exactly the same experience for me as the other comments i’ve read on here. I gave up for a while but with battling Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) and severe depression it’s crucial I get support and monitored as i’m on SSRI’s which aren’t doing me much good etc. I have really given up with the NHS and im so desperate to see a gp that I’m seriously considering going private even if it means getting myself into financial strain or debt. I’m so exhausted with suffering ongoing debilitating symptoms and getting nowhere with my surgery or NHS services. I’m in despair! Any recommendations as far a private?

It is a matter of self preservation. Part of my family, with a baby, decided to pay a relatively modest subscription to a private doctors’ group. They are seen “on demand” 24 hours a day including weekends, and will get visits if needed. Costs do not stop there, however, as I understand any prescribed medicines will be also bought privately, not at the NHS prescription rate.

It is quite wrong, of course, that this situation exists. I very rarely use my surgery but for something urgent there is a booking system for same-day appointments with a duty doctor and a phone consultation service. The difficulty comes in deciding whether something is “urgent” or can be left. Phone and internet consultations should be used more.

I would like to know more about the difficulties GPs face that makes the present system so difficult for patients. They are well paid according to the DT –
The figures from NHS Digital represent full time earnings for GP partners in England, which have risen from £101,900 on average in 2013/14, to £113,400 in 2017/18.

However, the average family doctor now works less than three and a half days a week.

GP leaders say the job has become so intense that full-time working was increasingly “untenable” with many having up to 40 patient consultations a day.” Many of us have, or have had, “intense jobs” with stress, long hours, difficult people.

Perhaps before patients take up the time of an overworked doctor they are screened by a nurse to decide if they, firstly, need further attention and, secondly, which doctor to see as they will have different specialities on top of their general knowledge.

There are still many people visiting the GP entirely unnecessarily. Colds don’t warrant a visit, for example, but the Medical profession has to accept its share of the blame for having made Medicine itself such an arcane institution in entry terms.

Hi Rachel – I suggest that if you cannot get an appointment online or on the phone you turn up at the GP surgery. I took a neighbour or friend to our surgery and they were fitted in. This is possible because not everyone turns up for appointments. You need to be referred to a specialist and hopefully the GP can help. It would be worth looking at what the NHS can offer before opting for private treatment.