Longer GP slots a good idea but something else will have to give

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
Share this article

Most patients who have been to a GP in recent years will appreciate there are problems with the 10 minute appointment time slot.

It is such a short period of time that a patient can easily overrun their appointment.

This is particularly so given that, naturally enough, many people try to save their own and their GP’s time by mentioning more than one issue when they go to their family doctor.

They might, for example, mention something that has been non urgent but has been troubling them for years.

It would be inefficient for everyone if the patient rescheduled a separate appointment for just to mention that second (or even third) concern.

When GPs have a number of patients who go beyond the 10 minute time frame, all appointments can begin to run behind schedule. The average length of GP consultations is 9.2 minutes, the lowest among wealthy nations, research suggests.

This adds to the stresses and strains on the doctors.

It is little wonder that a new report by the Royal College of GPs is suggesting 15 minute consultations.

This is clearly a sensible reform. But it will cost a vast amount of money on a National Health Service that is already under staffing and financial pressure.

Something will have to give. What?

At the very least, the media, the public, the health world and politicians all need to discuss this honestly. A modest charge for visiting a GP, of perhaps £5 or £10, with exemptions for the elderly and those with chronic health conditions, should at least be formally examined as an option.

If that is not seen as viable, then at the very least patients who miss free GP appointments without a health reason should be fined.

And in Northern Ireland we should again look at whether free prescriptions for everyone, even for those who have minor health conditions and who are easily able to pay, and happy to do so, is a sensible allocation of precious NHS resources.