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GP postcode lottery as four-week waits soar by 38 per cent – where are longest delays?

Four-week long waits to see a GP have almost doubled in some areas of England as a primary care postcode lottery worsens, the Lib Dems have said.

House of Commons Library analysis commissioned by the party found every local area in the country saw a rise in four-week GP waits in 2023 compared to the previous year.

The Vale of York saw a 79 per cent increase in GP waits of four weeks or more, the highest in the country. Bury saw a 74 per cent increase, East Leicestershire and Rutland saw a 69 per cent jump, and Blackpool a 68 per cent increase. In North Yorkshire, home of the Prime Minister’s constituency, there was a 56 per cent rise in such waits compared to 2022.

The overall number of appointments in England was nearly 20 million higher in 2023 than in 2022 – a rise of six per cent.

On Monday, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey will use a campaign visit to Science Minister Michelle Donelan’s constituency of Chippenham, in Wiltshire, to warn that the Conservative government has “failed to get a grip on this GP crisis” and is leaving patients in limbo. The Lib Dems are calling for patients to be given a legal right to see their GP within seven days or 24-hours if in urgent need.

It comes after a survey by the King’s Fund last week found only a third of people are satisfied with GP services, the lowest since records began in 1983. Since 2019, satisfaction with GP services has fallen by 34 percentage points with younger people in particular turning to the private sector for help.

The Commons Library analysis looks at NHS data measuring the time between when a GP appointment was booked and when it took place, broken down by local NHS areas across England. It found that across England, the number of four-week waits for a GP appointment soared to 17.6 million, up 38 per cent from 12.8 million the previous year.

It means one in 20 (5.1 per cent) of GP appointments last year involved waits of four weeks or more. In some parts of the country the proportion of patients waiting four-weeks or more to see their GP is almost double the national average.

Gloucestershire was the worst in the country with almost one in 10 (9.4 per cent) GP appointments involving waits of over a month in 2023, up from 6.8 per cent the previous year. This was followed by Derby and Derbyshire (9.4 per cent), Sheffield (9.3 per cent) and Dorset (8.7 per cent).

Mr Davey said: “These soaring GP waits show a grim postcode lottery, with communities being abandoned when it comes to local health services. Far too many people are being left in limbo, waiting for weeks on end to get a GP appointment when they need one.

“This Conservative government has neglected local health services for far too long. Their failure to get a grip on this GP crisis is causing huge anxiety for families right across the country. It should not be too much to ask to be able to see a GP when you need to.

“That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for a legal right for patients to get a GP appointment within seven days or 24-hours if in urgent need.”

Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, Vice Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GPs share our patients’ frustrations when they can’t access our care and services when they need to…

“The average number of patients per fully qualified GP continues to rise and is now a shocking 2,298, meaning each GP is, on average, responsible for 158 more patients than they were five years ago.

“Unmanageable and unsustainable workloads have become the new norm for GPs and our teams, and we can’t keep doing more with less.

“General practice is suffering from years of underfunding and poor workforce planning – and introducing arbitrary access targets is certainly not the answer. We need significant investment and dramatic efforts to increase GP numbers, especially to retain the current workforce, or this situation will only get worse.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We are committed to improving access to GPs, and thanks to sticking with our plan for a faster, simpler, fairer healthcare system, we are now delivering 50 million more GP appointments per year.

“Our Primary Care Recovery Plan, backed by £645m over two years, marks a major investment into primary care services. This includes expanding the services offered by community pharmacies through Pharmacy First which will help free up to 10 million GP appointments per year. We are also investing £240m on digital tools, telephony and training to ensure GP surgeries have what they need to improve access for patients.”

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