Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

A week to see the doctor: Patients in Northern Ireland face longest delays in UK

Louise Skelly
Louise Skelly

Patients in Northern Ireland are having to wait the longest in the UK to see their GP, according to a new survey.

The worrying figures showed that 25% of people here said they had to wait a week or more to get an appointment with their family doctor.

The poll looked into attitudes towards their GP and NHS providers and revealed that in the UK 14% had to wait a week or more.

In Scotland 8% of those surveyed said they had to wait that length of time, and 16% in London.

The Patient Client Council described the figures, published in the survey commissioned by YouGov and HealthExpress, as "disappointing and unacceptable".

Louise Skelly, Patient and Client Council head of operations, said their own research is finding a similar trend in waiting times.

"The fact that 25% of people are having to wait at least a week for a GP appointment in Northern Ireland is both disappointing and unacceptable," she said.

She said an ongoing survey by the Patient Client Council is looking at how easy or difficult it is to access services at GP Practices.

"To date nearly 7,000 people have taken part in this survey. "Early indications would suggest that 35% of people have to wait more than five days for a non-urgent appointment," she said.

But the BMA (NI) warns that waiting times for general practice in Northern Ireland will become worse until more GPs are appointed.

Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA (NI) GP Committee, said on average patients in Northern Ireland see their GP 6.5 times per year.

"This is 20% more than English patients and 100% more often than patients in the Republic of Ireland," he explained.

He also said that the GP service in Northern Ireland gets 5.5% of the NHS budget with the majority of funding going to hospital care.

"This is the lowest level of funding for general practice for any of the four countries.

"Waiting times for general practice will become worse until more GPs are appointed," he said.

"Unfortunately we are now in the middle of a recruitment and retention crisis in general practice and things will probably get worse.

"GPs will continue to work hard trying to prioritise those with greatest need."

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