There has been no shortage of patients sharing shocking stories about how missing in-person appointments or being trapped in the endless maze of phone calls and online forms has damaged their health.
Appointments don’t always come quickly either. While almost 150 million patients were seen on the same day in England in 2023, 17.6 million were seen at least a month after patients booked them, or one in 20.
What then is behind the crisis? MailOnline’s series of fascinating graphics explain the ins and outs of why you can’t see your GP when you want.
The number of GPs stagnates
There are currently an average of more than 950,000 GP appointments in England each day, an increase of more than 40,000 since 2018/19.
But despite this undeniable increase in demand, the number of GPs working in the NHS has actually stagnated.
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An increasing number of doctors are reducing their work hours and retiring early.
Some leave for the private sector or abroad due to increasing pressures.
While the number of NHS consultants increased by 18 per cent between 2016/17 and 2021/22, the number of GPs only increased by four per cent over the same period.
Ministers have quietly scrapped a promise to recruit 6,000 more GPs, which was a major part of Boris Johnson’s election-winning manifesto.
Since 2019, only 2,000 more family doctors have been hired.
Instead, the Government last year published its GP ‘recovery plan’ aimed at easing pressure on GPs and giving new powers to pharmacists.
Under the plan, he promised to invest £240 million in new phone systems to reduce waiting times for patients seeking appointments and spend £385 million to hire 26,000 direct patient care staff.
However, at the time health bodies warned that the plan was not “the silver bullet we desperately need”.
The Pharmacy First programme, first introduced in the recovery plan, was launched last month, allowing chemists to prescribe medicines for seven common ailments. It means patients struggling with minor illnesses, such as a sore throat or earache, can now avoid their GP.
But several GPs have already raised concerns about the Pharmacy First scheme, with some pharmacies reportedly directing patients to general practice.
The number of patients increases
While NHS England has argued that 2 million more GP appointments are being made each month compared to pre-pandemic levels, the patient population has only grown since then.
According to recommendations implemented by the BMA and the European Union of General Practitioners, GPs today should make no more than 25 appointments a day to ensure “safe care”.
But some doctors are reportedly having to see nearly 90 patients a day in some areas amid an appointment crisis.
Nationally, there were 27,487 fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs working in England in December, equivalent to one GP for every 2,078 patients, on average.
Health chiefs say the ratio of patients to each qualified GP should never exceed 1,800.
The ratio is widely recognized by local medical committees (local representative committees of NHS GPs) as the ‘safe limit’.
As things stand, another 4,000 GPs would need to be recruited to meet this ratio, MailOnline analysis suggests.
However, the Office for National Statistics projects that from 2036 there will be 6.6 million more people living in the UK.
Assuming this growth remains in line with current demographic trends, England’s population would reach 62.2 million.
Based on this figure, 34,000 GPs would need to work in the NHS to meet the ratio of one for every 1,800 patients, meaning an extra 7,000 GP jobs will be needed over the next 12 years.
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Patient satisfaction drops
Some even find it almost impossible to see a GP, with the ‘8am scramble’ being described as the rush to get tickets to Glastonbury.
As a result of the never-ending appointment crisis, patient satisfaction has fallen to its lowest level in four decades.
According to the 2023 GP Patient Survey, a survey of 759,000 Britons, only seven in ten (71.3 per cent) described their overall experience with their GP practice as ‘good’ overall.
Less than half of patients (49.8 percent) said they find it easy to contact their GP by phone, down from 52.7 percent in 2022 and 80.8 percent in 2012.
And one in four people (24.2 percent) said it was “not easy at all” to achieve this, five times more than the 5.4 percent in 2012.
Only one in six patients (16.4 percent) were “always or almost always” able to see their preferred family doctor, and 19.3 percent said they were “never or almost never” able to see them.
Likewise, patients have continually expressed frustration over the lack of face-to-face appointments.
On average, just over two-thirds of all appointments are now done in person, compared to about 80 percent pre-Covid.
Despite this, top doctors have suggested the figure may never return to this level, arguing that patients should not get a face-to-face appointment if there is no clinical need for it.
However, some campaign groups disagree, warning that phone or online calls are not appropriate for everyone and are not always the best way to diagnose patients.
Instead, disgruntled patients have abandoned NHS surgeries in favor of going private or visiting overcrowded A&E units.
But GP practices have also faced increasing levels of harassment, assault and verbal abuse directed at staff in recent months.
In 2022, a man was arrested after attacking a practice in Northamptonshire, leaving a member of staff needing stitches and other attacks were also recorded.