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GP hours 'failing younger adults'

GP surgeries must keep up with "21st-century lifestyles", a charity has warned, after a survey found young adults head straight to accident and emergency departments because they cannot get a suitable appointment.

Citizens Advice said people aged 18 to 34 were twice as likely to go to A&E or an NHS walk-in centre when they are unable to see their local doctor, compared with patients aged 55 and over.

One in eight 18 to 34-year-olds said they had bypassed their GP surgery after struggling to get an appointment, compared with just 6% of over 55s, according to a GP Patient Survey of more than 900,000 people.

Citizens Advice said the findings showed that access to GPs "isn't meeting the needs of younger adults".

It comes after figures released earlier this week showed hospital waiting time targets were being missed as they struggle to cope with a record number of admissions.

NHS England said just 89.8% of patients were seen within four hours last week, compared with the target of 95%.

More than 10,000 patients were forced to wait longer than four hours for a bed once a decision was made to admit them into hospital from A&E.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: "GP services need to keep up with 21st-century lifestyles. Long working hours means it can be difficult for younger adults to get an appointment with a GP, let alone one at a convenient time. As a result some people are struggling to access the medical advice they need.

"It is in the NHS' interest to get primary healthcare for younger adults right and ensure services fit around busy working lives. A failure to meet their needs piles more pressure on budgets and is an inefficient use of scarce NHS resources.

"Many GPs are already transforming the way they provide services and embracing new technologies. It is vital that they keep up with how people of all ages want to engage with public services including healthcare."

Citizens Advice said almost 4,500 people contacted the charity last year with issues about GP services.

It found that 30% of young adults surveyed had found their experience of GPs to be "very good", compared with 64% of those aged 75 and over. One in seven people (14%) aged 18 to 34 could not see a GP last time they tried to make an appointment.

One in eight (13%) of younger adults did not get any professional help for a health problem after being unable to see their GP.

Citizens Advice said walk-in centres were the preferred option for younger adults unable to get a suitable GP appointment, but the charity claimed many were closing.

Fifty walk-in centres have shut down since 2010, with 185 left in England, the charity added.

It said online booking systems would make it "much easier" for people unable to phone GP surgeries during opening hours, while flexibility around where a patient can see a GP would also help.

Dr Richard Vautrey, deputy chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "GPs provide a 24/7 service with most surgeries not only working increasingly hard during the day to cope with rapidly rising demand, and many offering extended opening hours providing early morning, evening and weekend appointments, but in addition large numbers of GPs work for out-of-hours organisations seeing patients right through the night.

"However, both day-time and out-of-hours services have seen funding cut, and are increasingly struggling to recruit new GPs, at the same time as demand for appointments has been increasing.

"The problems with NHS 111 and the confusing fragmentation of urgent care services have also made things worse, rather than better.

"With demand for appointments rising and more care being delivered in the community, the system is struggling to keep up.

"We desperately need more GPs and investment in services if general practice can deliver the care patients need, when they need it and keep up with the sheer number of patients coming through the door."

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