It’s almost a decade since the Government scrapped the 48-hour target for GP appointments – and now one in 10 of us wait at least three weeks to see a GP.
That’s 2.8 million people each month.
So how can you make sure you get one of those elusive slots – and what can you do if you don’t think you are getting the care you require?
I’ve been trying to book an appointment for weeks but the slots are always gone by the time I get through on the phone. What can I do?
If you don’t fancy queuing up outside your surgery before it opens, the answer is to turn to technology – and we don’t mean Dr Google .
Many GP surgeries are now using apps such as Patient Access and Evergreen Life, found in your smartphone’s app store, to give patients easier access to appointments.
Rather than continually pressing redial hundreds of times and hoping you’ll get through before all the appointments have gone, you will be able to access the booking system directly.
Just make sure you know when appointments are released each day and be ready to log in at that time – try later and you will quickly discover there are none to be had.
The apps also let you order repeat prescriptions, access your medical records and message your GP practice directly – which is great if you are among the four in 10 patients who have put off making appointments because they didn’t want to discuss their symptoms with a receptionist.
The alternative is to head to a walk-in clinic where you will need to sit and wait to see a doctor.
Or call 111 to speak to someone about your issue who will ask about your symptoms and let you know what to do if you can’t see your family doctor.
My surgery will only offer me appointments with a nurse practitioner, but I want to be seen by a doctor. Are they properly qualified?
Nurse practitioners are trained specialist nurses who have additional qualifications beyond basic nursing training.
As well as being able to assess and examine patients, diagnose illnesses and advise on the best treatment for common conditions, they are also licensed to prescribe medication.
They can organise blood tests and other investigations and will refer you back to the doctor if they think your condition is complex.
An appointment with a nurse practitioner is a great place to start if you can’t get an appointment with a GP straight away.
I don’t think my GP has taken my symptoms seriously – can I ask for a second opinion?
Although doctors are not legally obliged to offer patients a second opinion, it is considered to be good practice to do so. If you don’t feel your concerns are being taken seriously, be polite.
The Patients Association advises people to request a second opinion by explaining that they want to be assured they are receiving the best treatment for their condition.
This will usually involve your GP passing your case to another doctor in your practice who will review your medical notes and make a decision about your care based on his or her clinical opinion.
But be warned, you aren’t guaranteed same-day service.
“The process isn’t always straightforward,” advises John Kell, head of policy at The Patients Association.
“You could be waiting months for a referral to another doctor, especially during particularly busy periods for the NHS, such as winter.”
My GP won’t refer me to a specialist, but I think I should see one. Is there anything else I can do?
The only way to get referred to a specialist is through a GP – unless you choose to pay for private care.
Your GP decides whether to refer you to a specialist.
Even if you want to see a private specialist, a GP’s referral letter will usually be required so you will need to argue your case clearly if your GP doesn’t agree you need further assessment.
I want to make a complaint about my GP. What do I do?
“It is your right to raise a concern if you are unhappy with your treatment or care,” says Mr Kell.
“Never be put off because you don’t want to make a fuss or get someone into trouble.”
It is probably worth making an informal approach first by raising your concerns with the practice manager before going down the formal complaints route.
Mr Kell adds: “Normally, you should complain within 12 months of the events concerned (or 12 months from the date on which you found out about them).
“If your complaint is older than 12 months your surgery can choose not to deal with it, but it should be flexible – for example, if you had a major injury and it took you a long time to be well enough to complain.”
If you aren’t sure where to start with a more formal complaint, The Patients Association can provide information and advice about how to raise your concerns if you are dissatisfied with the health care you are receiving.
The Association has complaint letter templates that can be downloaded from its website.
Most GPs are now responsible for almost 200 more patients than a decade ago – and the average appointment now lasts less than 10 minutes, so it’s important to make the most of your time with your doctor.
The Patients Association has created a handy checklist to help you prepare properly for an appointment.
How to make the most of your GP appointment
Answers to prepare:
What are your symptoms? Aches and pains may be obvious but think about changes you’ve noticed – for example, to your appetite, bowel habits, energy levels or mood.
Do your symptoms follow a pattern? Try to monitor how you feel over 24 hours.
When did the feelings or symptoms begin?
Is it recent or have you been experiencing this for
Is everyday life, for example, sleeping, walking, working, more difficult because of these symptoms?
What are you concerned about in particular?
Is there a family history that you think might be relevant?
What medicines are you taking and what treatments have you tried?
Questions to ask:
What do the physical signs or feelings mean?
Do I need any tests? When would these be done and what would they involve?
What should I do if the symptoms or my health gets worse?
What’s the likely treatment and how long
will I be on it?
What help or advice can
my family and I get from support services?
Is there anything I should look out for and what should I do if it happens?
Will the tests I have definitely show up what
is wrong, or might I still need more tests after
For more information, go to www.patients-association.org.uk or call 020 8423 8999.