There’s been no shortage of patients sharing shocking stories of how a lack of face-to-face appointments or being trapped in the endless labyrinth of phone calls and online forms has damaged their health.

Appointments don’t always come quickly either. While almost 150million patients were seen same-day in England in 2023, 17.6m took place at least one month after patients booked them — or one in every 20.

So what is behind the crisis? MailOnline’s series of fascinating charts explain the ins-and-outs of why you can’t see your GP when you want to. 

Number of GPs stagnating

There are now more than 950,000 GP appointments on average in England every day — an increase of more than 40,000 since 2018/19.

But despite this undeniable rise in demand, the number of GPs working in the NHS has actually stagnated.

Increasing numbers of doctors are reducing their working hours and retiring early.

Some are leaving for the private sector or abroad because of the soaring pressures.

While the number of NHS consultants growing by 18 per cent between 2016/17 and 2021/22, the number of GPs has only increased by just four per cent over the same period. 

Ministers have silently binned a promise to hire 6,000 more GPs, which was a major part of Boris Johnson’s election-winning manifesto. 

Just 2,000 more family doctors have been recruited since 2019. 

Instead, the Government last year published its GP ‘recovery plan’ aiming to ease pressure on GPs and hand new powers to pharmacists. 

What does the latest GP appointment data show?

Appointments held: 25.8million

Attended: 89.8 per cent 

Seen by GP: 46.0 per cent

Seen by nurse: 20.4 per cent 

Face-to-face appointment: 66.6 per cent

Phone appointment: 26.5 per cent

Same day: 42.6 per cent

Up to one week wait: 25.2 per cent

One to two week wait: 12.8 per cent

Two to four weeks wait: 11.7 per cent

NHS England data for December 

Under the plan, it promised £240million would be invested into new phone systems to cut waiting times for patients seeking appointments and spend £385million to hire 26,000 direct patient care staff. 

At the time, however, health bodies warned the plan was not ‘the silver bullet that we desperately need’. 

Last month the Pharmacy First scheme — first unveiled in the recovery plan — was launched, allowing chemists to prescribe for seven common ailments. It means that patients battling minor illnesses, such as a sore throat or earache, can now bypass their GP.

But a number of GPs have already raised concerns around the Pharmacy First scheme, with some pharmacies reportedly directing patients back to general practice. 

Patient numbers rising 

While NHS England has argued 2million more GP appointments are now being delivered every month compared to pre-pandemic levels, since then the patient population has only grown.

Under recommendations implemented by the BMA and European Union of General Practitioners, GPs today should not deliver more than 25 appointments a day to ensure ‘safe care’.

But some doctors are reportedly having to cram in nearly 90 patients a day in some areas amid an appointments crisis.

Nationally, there were 27,487 fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs working in England in December, equating to one GP for every 2,078 patients, on average.

Health chiefs say the ratio of patients to every one fully qualified GP should never exceed 1,800. 

The ratio is widely recognised by local medical committees — local representative committees of NHS GPs — as the ‘safe limit’. 

As it stands, another 4,000 GPs would need to be recruited to meet this ratio, MailOnline analysis suggests.

However, the Office for National Statistics projects there will be an extra 6.6million people living in the UK as of 2036.

Assuming this growth kept in line with current demographic trends, this would see England’s population hit 62.2million.

Under this figure, 34,000 GPs would have to be working in the NHS to meet the one per 1,800 patient ratio, meaning an additional 7,000 family doctor positions are required over the next 12 years.

Patient satisfaction fallen

Some are even finding it almost impossible to see a GP in the first place, with the ‘8am scramble’ described as being like the rush to get Glastonbury tickets.

Patient satisfaction has, as a result of the never-ending appointments crisis, plunged to its lowest level in four decades.

According to the 2023 GP Patient Survey, a poll of 759,000 Brits, just seven in ten (71.3 per cent) described their overall experience of their GP practice as ‘good’ overall. 

Fewer than half of patients (49.8 per cent) said they find it easy to get through to their GP practice on the phone, down from 52.7 per cent in 2022 and 80.8 per cent in 2012.

And one in four people (24.2 per cent) said it was ‘not at all easy’ to get through, five-times higher than the 5.4 per cent in 2012.

Only one in six patients (16.4 per cent) were ‘always or almost always’ able to see their preferred family doctor, with 19.3 per cent saying they can ‘never or almost never’ see them.

Equally, patients have continually expressed frustration over a lack of face-to-face appointments. 

Just over two thirds of all appointments on average are now held in person, compared to roughly 80 per cent pre-Covid. 

Despite this, top doctors have suggested the figure may never return to this level arguing patients shouldn’t get a face-to-face appointment if there is no clinical need for one.

Some campaign groups, however, have disagreed, warning that telephone or online calls are not appropriate for everyone and aren’t always the best way of diagnosing patients. 

Instead, disgruntled patients have abandoned NHS surgeries in favour of going private or visiting swamped A&E units instead.

But GP surgeries have also faced rising levels of harassment, assaults and verbal abuse targeted at staff in recent months. 

In 2022 a man was arrested after attacking a practice in Northamptonshire, leaving one staff member requiring stitches with other attacks also being recorded. 

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