Labour claims millions finding it 'impossible' to book GP appointments

The opposition party has blamed 'twelve years of Conservative failure'. Credit: PA

Fears have been raised that patients will not have serious medical conditions diagnosed until it is "too late" due to a nationwide GP shortage.

The Labour Party is warning people are struggling to book appointments as a survey found around one in eight patients did not get an appointment the last time they tried to book one.

With almost 32 million GP appointments reported in England in October, Labour has warned the figures mean an estimated five million may have been unable to book when they tried that month.

The estimates were based on the latest appointment figures taken from GP Patient Survey data.

However, independent fact-checkers at Full Fact have described the estimates as "not reliable" and based on survey data that includes some patients who were offered an appointment they did not take and assumes every appointment request came from a different patient.

According to the survey, some 13.8% of patients did not get an appointment the last time they tried to book one. Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “Patients are finding it impossible to get a GP appointment when they need one. “I’m really worried that among those millions of patients unable to get an appointment, there could be serious conditions going undiagnosed until it’s too late.

The Department of Health has said the figures are "inaccurate". Credit: PA

“Twelve years of Conservative failure to train the staff our NHS needs has left it with thousands fewer GPs, and patients are paying the price. “Meanwhile they are protecting the non-dom tax status, allowing people who live in Britain to pay their taxes overseas. We need doctors and nurses, not non-doms. “The next Labour government will train a new generation of doctors and nurses, paid for by abolishing non-doms. Patients need doctors’ appointments more than the wealthiest need a tax break.”

Commenting on the analysis, chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Kamila Hawthorne, said: “GPs and their teams are working flat out to deliver the care and services our patients need. “GPs want our patients to receive timely and appropriate care, and we share their frustrations when this isn’t happening.

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“But difficulties accessing our services isn’t the fault of GP teams, it’s a consequence of an under-resourced, underfunded, and understaffed service working under unsustainable pressures. “While GP workload has increased by 18% since 2019, numbers of fully qualified, full-time equivalent GPs has fallen by 719.” A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the analysis is "inaccurate", as the survey was published in July using "indicative data".

"Since then it’s been confirmed there were 36 million appointments carried out in October, a 5.3% increase on the same time last year," they said.

“We are improving access to general practice so everyone who needs an appointment can get one within two weeks – including by recruiting more support staff and rolling out state-of-the art telephone systems to make it easier to get through to surgeries.” According to NHS Digital, 36.1 million appointments were estimated to have happened in GP surgeries in England in October, but four million were Covid-19 vaccine appointments.

In October, 38.9% of appointments took place on the day they were booked. The figures also show that 43.5% of appointments in October were carried out by a GP and 23.7% by nurses.