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12.10.16

Lack of GP availability discouraging patients from making appointments

Patients are being discouraged from seeking an appointment with GPs because of difficulties making an appointment and fears about talking to GP receptionists, according to a survey published in the Journal of Public Health.

The survey asked almost 2,000 people what might put them off going to the doctor, and found that the most common answers, chosen by 42% of people, were difficulty getting an appointment with a particular doctor or at a particular time.

This was followed by 40% of respondents saying they didn’t like talking to the GP receptionist about their symptoms.

Dr Richard Roope, Cancer Research UK’s GP expert, said: “Diagnosing cancer early is something we have to take seriously, so anything that might prevent people from getting their symptoms checked needs to be overcome.

“We need to ensure that patients are able to get appointments at a convenient time, can book an appointment to see a particular doctor and aren’t put off coming to see them in the first place. This may mean more emphasis on training front desk staff including receptionists to deal more sensitively with patients.”

Dr Roope also said it was “vital” that the promised GP Forward View investment attracts more GPs to meet the demand.

NHS England recently released new funding to help GPs return to work after an absence and treat mental health problems in order to boost numbers.

A recent Health Foundation report found that 92% of GPs said they were so overworked their appointments lasted 15 minutes or less.

But Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, defended GP receptionists, saying that they “ensure the smooth running of the practice and do their best to help patients see a particular GP at a suitable time for them”.

“However, it is important to remember that they are not healthcare professionals, and are not in a position to make decisions about our patients' health,” she said, adding that the  Forward View will include new training for clerical staff and receptionists.

The survey also found that 20% of respondents said they were worried about wasting a doctor’s time, 19% were worried about medical tests, 18% were worried the doctor wouldn’t take their symptoms seriously and 16% said they had had a bad experience with a doctor in the past. Women and people from lower socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to report barriers.

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