Patients less satisfied with GPs as NHS waiting lists hit new high in England

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The Guardian

The number of people waiting for NHS treatment in England has increased every month for the past two years, reaching another record high of 6.6 million patients in May.

It comes as the latest GP patient experience survey, also published today, shows patients putting off booking appointments because they find it too difficult and a declining satisfaction with family doctors.

The number of people waiting more than a year to be seen reached 330,000, up on the previous month although two-year-waits more than halved between December and May.

The government and NHS England have said they want to eliminate one-year plus waiting lists by March 2025 and those of more than two years – other than by patient choice – by the end of this month.

The Health Foundation charity said the “alarm bell is sounding loudest in emergency care services”: although A&E attendances fell slightly to 2,183,670 in June, down slightly on the previous month, 41% of patients waited more than four hours in major A&Es before being seen.

More than 130,000 patients who needed a bed waited more than four hours in A&E with 22,034 people waiting over 12 hours between the decision to admit them and a bed becoming available.

The average response time for the most urgent ambulance responses in England -those dealing with life-threatening illnesses or injuries – also grew to more than nine minutes last month, up from eight minutes and 36 seconds in May. The average target time is seven minutes.

Cancer waiting times were, in the main, better than January when the NHS’s performance against seven of its nine cancer waiting times targets fell to record lows.

However, most of the service’s cancer targets were not being met and some were at their worst-ever levels. Close to 40% of patients who should have been treated within two months of an urgent referral by their GP had not started treatment and a quarter patients requiring treatment within two months of a consultant upgrade had not received it.

Dr Tim Cooksley, president of the Society for Acute Medicine, said the number of patients waiting for prolonged periods for urgent care remained “unacceptable and must not be seen as the new normal”.

Tim Gardner, senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation said there was a fundamental problem with the health and social care system: “Chronic workforce shortages, a lack of bed capacity and delays in discharging patients are all causing these pressures.”

However, Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said the service was making good progress in some areas pointing to a record number of diagnostic tests and checks in May and reduction in the number of people waiting more than two years for treatment.

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“There is no doubt the NHS still faces significant pressures, from rising Covid admissions, thousands of staff absences due to the virus, the heatwave, and record demand for ambulances and emergency care.”

Separate figures show that patient satisfaction with GPs is on the decline with 72% of patients in England reporting a good experience of their GP practice early in 2022, down from 83% the previous year and 82% in 2020.

More than half of patients – 55% – who needed an appointment said they had avoided making one in the last year, up from 42% in 2021 and more than a quarter (27%) had not made an appointment because they found it too difficult, up from just 11% in 2021.

July 14, 2022 at 06:21PM Pamela Duncan and Andrew Gregory

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