• More patients report they are waiting a week or more for an appointment
  • Overall satisfaction remains high but continues to fall
  • Patients are finding it harder to access services over the telephone

Patients say they are finding it harder to access their GP services while their satisfaction with their overall experience has continued to dip, according to data released today.

NHS England’s GP Patient Survey for 2019 also showed patients are finding it harder to get timely appointments or to see people in their practices at a time they wanted.

The survey, which received more than 770,000 responses from patients between January and April 2019, revealed fewer patients said they saw or spoke to someone at their practice when they wanted, with 57.2 per cent of patients seeing or speaking to someone at a time they wanted or sooner in 2019, compared with 58.2 per cent in 2018.

Over half of the patients surveyed (52.8 per cent) said they were offered a choice of when they could have an appointment, though this is down from the 53.7 per cent of respondents in 2018. However, 38.3 per cent of patients said they were offered no choice on when their appointment would be, at what location, or who it would be with, up from 37.7 per cent in 2018.

Some 25.3 per cent of respondents waited a week or more for an appointment at their GP in 2019, compared with 23.8 per cent in 2018. Fewer patients said they got same day appointments, next day appointments or appointments within a few days.

Meanwhile, 17.7 per cent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the appointment time they were offered, up from 16.9 per cent last year. A fifth of respondents said they were dissatisfied with the appointment slot they were offered but decided to accept it anyway.

Although patient survey findings from years before 2018 are said to be not comparable, deterioration on its access questions continues a trend in the survey seen over several years, as practices and the wider NHS have suffered with funding and workforce pressure. 

Growing dissatisfaction

Patients reporting a good or very good experience with their GP has declined slightly, from 83.8 per cent in 2018 to 82.9 per cent in 2019. This measure fell from 88 per cent in June 2012 to 84 per cent in March 2017.

The patient survey was altered in 2018 to expand the cohort to include patients aged 16 and 17. NHSE has said this means more recent figures cannot be directly compared with earlier survey responses. However, the trends seen from 2018 into 2019 reflect those seen from 2012 to 2017.

Variation in patient satisfaction also grew in 2019. Last year, the lowest performing clinical commissioning group had 72.4 per cent of respondents saying they had a fairly good or very good overall experience of their GP practice, while the highest performing CCG had 93.0 per cent. In 2019, this range has widened to 69.1 per cent at the bottom and 92.1 per cent at the top. 

The most recent survey results have been published as NHSE prepares to carry out a review of GP access later this year, which will look at various issues including to same-day GP appointments.

NHSE’s acting director of primary care, Nikita Kanani, will lead the review. She said: “We will look at making improvements to pre-bookable and same-day GP appointments, reviewing patient feedback on face-to-face and online consultations, delivering greater choice and access to appropriate care for patients.”

All change

The survey was published 10 days after the NHS launched its marquee primary care initiative, primary care networks. On 1 July, most GPs in England had started working in formal groups of practices, governed by a shared network agreement developed by the constituent practices and covering specific geographic areas.

PCNs were set up as part of a five-year agreement between the NHS and general practice. This came after the release of the NHS long-term plan, which said the NHS will funnel an additional £4.5bn into primary care over the next five years.

The primary care network agreement also includes a commitment that every GP practice will offer digital consultations from 2021. This comes as survey data shows more patients are aware of online services offered by their GP.

The survey shows 44.1 per cent of patients are aware they can book appointments online, compared with 40.6 per cent in 2018. More patients are also accessing GP services online, through apps or websites, than they did last year – increasing from 10 per cent in 2018 to 11.6 per cent.

However, most patients still book appointments over the phone, even though the survey should an increase in patients having problems getting through on the telephone. 

The survey data showed 31.7 per cent of patients in 2019 said it was not easy to get through to their practice, compared with 29.7 the year before. This continues a trend reported since 2012, with more patients saying it is hard to contact their practice by phone.