A new British Medical Association (BMA) report has found that month-long waits for a GP appointment have increased significantly in the past year.

After analysing NHS Digital’s most recently released figures on how the NHS has been performing over recent winters, mostly between January and March, the BMA found that 2.23 million patients waited more than 28 days to get a GP appointment this year. This shows an increase of 15% from last year.

Although the vast majority of appointments are booked and completed on the same day, at 10 million in March, the number of long waits has risen.

According to the report: “Fewer same day appointments and significant rises in the number of appointments involving a wait of over a week shows that primary care was even more stretched this winter than last winter.”

It revealed that two-week waits for GP appointments rose by 13% on last year, while appointments involving a wait of over a week increased by 9%, which now represents 30% of all appointments. There were 213,000 fewer same-day GP appointments than last year.

The BMA said these waits were partly due to “continuing shortages in the number of GPs working”. The numbers of qualified full-time equivalent GPs fell to 28,596, a loss of 600 GPs in a year, despite the number of registered patients rising every month since records began in November 2017.

Almost a quarter of cancer patients waited more than two months for their first treatment after an urgent referral by a GP, with only 76.2% being seen within the 62 days — below the 85% target. Overall, 6240 people were waiting beyond the target, a 39% rise on last year.

BMA Council Chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “Forcing a patient to wait two months for their first cancer treatment is shameful for a leading nation and as a doctor, I can imagine only too well the distress this will cause to them and their families. It also places stress on the clinicians who treat them as they are well aware that the cancer may have worsened during the delay between referral and treatment.”

The BMA stressed that the lack of further and more detailed data on primary care activity and performance remained a key issue. Data collected all year round and winter specific data in secondary care was not being replicated in primary care, according to the report.

An NHS England spokesperson responded: “Appointments booked and attended over 28 days include many patients who require routine follow-ups or prefer to book dates to suit them. Around half of all GP appointments are booked and taken on the same day, or within 24 hours.”

Last reviewed 8 May 2019