GP appointments in Britain are shorter than in most of the world’s other rich nations, a study has revealed.
Patients in the UK have average appointment times of 9.22 minutes, according to Cambridge University researchers.
Even countries such as Peru, Bulgaria, Latvia, Poland and Croatia have longer GP appointments than the UK, the study found.
In a league table of appointment duration, Britain comes 29th out of 67 nations, behind most other wealthy countries including the US, Australia, France, Spain, New Zealand, Canada and Japan. Pictured: A file image of a woman being seen by a GP
Leading doctors said last night the standard ten-minute consultation is no longer fit for purpose and NHS patients are getting a raw deal.
Patients in the UK spend less than half the time with their GP than those in Sweden, where average appointments are 22.5 minutes, and the US, where they are 21.07 minutes. Even Bulgarian patients get 20 minutes of face-to-face time with their GP.
Those at the bottom of the table included some of the world’s poorest countries – Pakistan, where patients typically get 1.79 minutes, and Bangladesh, where appointments last two minutes.
The researchers, whose work is published in the journal BMJ Open, wrote: ‘A lack of time in the consultation is a key constraint to delivering expert care.
‘Addressing this limitation is necessary if patients… are to be effectively managed.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said last night: ‘The time GPs have with our patients is precious, and the more time we are able to spend with them, the better patient-centred care we are able to provide.
‘It’s concerning to see that every UK study included in this research shows that we are spending less than ten minutes on average with our patients during their consultation.
‘It backs up previous research showing consultation times are among the lowest in western Europe and other comparable health systems.’
She added: ‘Increasingly patients are living with multiple, long-term chronic conditions – both physical and psychological – and at the same time GPs are being asked to do more checks, ask more questions and give more advice as standard during consultations.
Last month Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt acknowledged that ten-minute appointments are not long enough to meet some patients’ needs.
He admitted GPs are on a ‘hamster wheel’ of 30 or 40 patients a day, and if they cut some out they would have more ‘energy’ to do their jobs properly.
‘The old model of ten-minute appointments doesn’t really work for patients with multiple long-term conditions who may need 30, 40, 50 minutes to get to the bottom of their needs,’ he said.
A study by Glasgow and Dundee universities last year found that extending GP appointments to 30 minutes would be more cost-effective than many prescription drugs. The paper, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found patients who spent half an hour discussing their health were in better condition a year later than those who had the usual ten-minute slot.
Until April 2014, GP appointments in England were fixed at ten minutes. That requirement was dropped after negotiation with doctors’ leaders, but while GPs now have more flexibility, ten minutes remains the standard appointment time.
The NHS Choices website tells patients they should expect doctors to spend an average of eight to ten minutes with them.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said GPs cannot extend appointments because they have so many patients and waiting times are getting longer.
‘Offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments,’ she added. ‘Our latest analysis of the independent GP Patient Survey found patients will already be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 100million occasions by 2020.
‘We urgently need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View [programme], which includes £2.4billion extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, delivered in full.’