Patients asking for an appointment with their GP are being turned away – and the problem is only going to get worse, according to doctors.
The Royal College of General Practitioners said practices were being hit by cuts in funding at the same time as demand for their services is increasing.
NHS figures show that 10% of patients who tried to get an appointment in West Newcastle last year were unable to see a GP on the day they wanted.
In about half those cases, patients were able to go to a GP on a different day. Others went to a hospital A&E department, spoke to a pharmacist or didn’t bother seeking advice or treatment.
Dr Relton Cummings, chair of NHS Newcastle North and East Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We recognise that patients often might want to see a GP, on the same day, as they very much value the relationship they have with their family doctor.
“Over the last 10 years, demand for appointments has increased by an average of 20% and this has been met with generally high satisfaction from patients with the health services they receive from their local GP practice.
“We know sometimes patients can get frustrated in accessing appointment at their GP practice, and the survey shows that 92% do get appointment on the day they choose.
“However, we are continually looking across the NHS at ways in how we can extend access to primary care, such as GP practices working together to extend opening hours such as early morning, later in the evening and weekends to be more responsible to people’s working lives.” The figures come from the GP Patient Survey, which is carried out twice a year by the NHS, and show the performance of each Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the bodies which are now responsible for commissioning health services.
In the area covered by Newcastle North and East, 8% of patients, almost one in 12, could not get a GP appointment on the day of their choosing.
In Northumberland, the figure was one in 10. In North Tyneside the figure was 9%, in South Tyneside it was 10%, in Gateshead it was 9%, in Sunderland it was 10% and in North Durham it was 11% of patients.
In surgeries overseen by Durham Dales, Easington And Sedgefield CCG, one in 10 patients could not get an appointment on the day of their choosing.
The Royal College of General Practitioners warned that the number of patients failing to see a GP will continue to increase – due to the ongoing cuts in funding for general practice, allied to rapidly growing demand, with general practice now seeing a total of 340 million patients per year.
It said demand for services was soaring, and each GP in England carries out 10,714 consultations a year – up from 9,264 in 2009.
But funding for GPs has fallen by £9.1bn since 2004/05 in real-terms, as cash is targeted at hospitals instead.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “The GP Survey showed the vast majority of patients are satisfied with their GP and rated their experience of making an appointment as good.
“We know how hard GPs work. That is why we are freeing them from excessive box-ticking so that they can devote more time to patients.”