Patients in England want the right to see a GP with 24 hours dedicated to the NHS | GPS

Seven in 10 people urgently want to be able to see a GP within 24 hours, according to research by the NHS patient watchdog.

Almost three quarters (71%) of voters in England support automatic access to a family doctor within one day of making an appointment for a health problem they believe cannot wait.

Healthwatch England urged ministers and NHS employers to respond to intense frustration over the long delays many people face waiting to see a GP by enshrining in the NHS constitution what would be the first guarantee for patients of care general medical care within an established period.

Currently, the main rights that the constitution confers on patients have to do with hospital care. They include the right to have surgery within 18 weeks of referral, to have cancer diagnosed within 28 days and to be seen by an emergency unit within four hours. However, relentless pressures on hospitals and chronic understaffing mean these goals are often not met.

Last month, ministers revealed plans to update the constitution and give patients new rights.

Louise Ansari, chief executive of Healthwatch England, said that while many people consulted a GP promptly, access to GPs was the biggest problem for patients. The delays left some so frustrated that they gave up trying to get an appointment, became sicker and ended up in the ER. “Too often we hear about long waits in phone queues to book appointments and difficulties navigating online GP access tools,” she said.

He added: “It is not surprising that people want to see timely access to the GP as a new right in the NHS constitution. In addition to better access generally, the Constitution should reflect the widespread desire among patients to be able to get an urgent appointment with their GP within 24 hours.”

Polling agency Survation asked 1,812 adults in England on behalf of Healthwatch which new rights to NHS care they would most like. In response, 71% said they wanted to be able to get an urgent GP appointment within 24 hours.

However, GP leaders dismissed the idea as unviable. A shortage of GPs, practice closures and relentless demand meant GPs did not have enough time to offer an urgent appointment to everyone who wanted one, they said.

“The reality is that we do not have enough GPs to ensure care for all patients within 24 hours of booking,” said Professor Kamila Hawthorne, president of the Royal College of GPs. “Demand for our services would simply exceed capacity. “Introducing mandates for practices to ensure all appointments are delivered within a set timeframe would simply increase the pressure on an already struggling service.”

Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said GPs would like to offer the 24-hour access that patients want. But she said: “The sad truth is that we have lost more than 1,000 practices in the last decade, with almost 2,000 fewer full-time equivalent GPs than in 2015.”

The right to an urgent GP appointment is a Liberal Democrat policy.

Ansari wants the NHS constitution to be renamed the “patient promise” and for the health service to start a “national conversation” about the access it could be expected to provide.

“Ahead of the review of the NHS constitution, we are calling on the government to ensure that one of the NHS commitments covers maximum waiting times to be seen at GP surgeries,” he said. “This would help restore public satisfaction with the NHS, which has fallen sharply in recent years, especially as a result of frustration over delays in accessing care.”

The survey also found that 68% of adults wanted to choose whether a GP appointment was in person, over the phone or on screen. It found that 58% wanted the NHS to provide a single point of contact about their care and 56% wanted to receive regular updates while waiting for care.

The Department of Health and Social Care did not comment directly on the findings. But a spokesperson said: “Practices should tell patients how their request will be handled on the day they contact the practice, and patients should not be asked to call back later.

“If an appointment is necessary, it should be offered within two weeks, and NHS guidance is clear that practices should take into account patients’ preferences for the mode of appointment.”

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