Northern Ireland GPs have echoed concerns from their English counterparts after a survey of their patients found 42% were unable to see or speak with a doctor when they wanted to.
Some 57.2% of all patients saw or spoke to someone at a time they wanted or sooner, which has dropped by 1% from 58.2% in 2018, according to this year’s GP Patient Survey in England.
It also found that fewer people said it was easy to get through to their GP practice on the phone, 68.3%, down from 70.3%, with almost a third, 31.7%, saying it was “not easy”.
Dr Nikita Kanani, acting director of primary care for NHS England, said: “Family doctors in England see nearly one million people every day and this survey shows they appreciate the fantastic job they do alongside other practice staff such as nurses and pharmacists.”
And Dr Alan Stout, chair of the British Medical Association’s NI general practitioners committee, said there were also major challenges in NI.
“The environment for primary care is still an extremely challenging one in Northern Ireland,” he said. “We have fewer GPs per-head of population than the rest of the UK. We do not have enough GPs to deal with growing patient numbers here, particularly in rural areas.
“Yet despite the well-documented pressures on the health service and the rising complexity and demand of patient need, general practice remains committed as ever to providing the best possible service and level of care for its patients.
“These figures from NHS England and the good results for patient satisfaction highlights how general practice remains the bedrock of the NHS and will be fundamental to the future of how care is delivered.”
Some 770,512 people across England responded to the survey on their experience of GPs.
Helen Buckingham, director of strategy at the Nuffield Trust, said: “Our work shows that England is experiencing the first prolonged fall in GPs per person in 50 years, and today’s GP Patient Survey shows the relentless impact this is having on patients.
“Measures of how easy it is to get an appointment are sliding across the board.”
Chair of the BMA’s UK committee for GPs, Dr Richard Vautrey, told the News Letter the population is growing beause people are living longer, but resources for GPs have not kept pace.
In addition, he said, trainee doctors often prefer to opt for careers in hospitals as there are more defined limits on workloads and they will never face the responsbility of running their own GP practise business.