Complaints about GPs have almost tripled in a year with the ‘vast majority’ of those coming from people who were unable to book an appointment due to surgeries prioritising the booster rollout.
Figures from the Care Quality Commission showed 8,267 patients contacted the health regulator between January and November last year, almost three times the 3,001 reported in the same period the year before.
Patients’ groups said the increase in complaints represents a ‘worrying decline’ as people have struggled to access face-to-face appointments because of the pandemic.
Recent figures show just 64 per cent of appointments are now in-person compared to 80 per cent before the pandemic.
Last month, people were also told they would have to wait for their ‘routine’ appointments so GPs could focus on delivering booster jabs.
The chairman of the Royal College of GPs said the figures showed the ‘intense workload’ GPs and their stuff were working under, while the NHS said they showed ‘general practice is working hard to ensure patients get the care they need’.
Patients’ groups said the increase in complaints represents a ‘worrying decline’ as people have struggled to access face-to-face appointments because of the pandemic (stock image)
Dennis Reed, from Silver Voices, a campaign group for the elderly, said the number of complaints were just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as most patients would not bother complaining.
‘Situations have to be pretty extreme for people to go as far as to complain to the inspectorate,’ he told the Telegraph.
‘For all of these thousands of cases there will be many more people who struggle to get to see their GP, and don’t complain, but don’t get their symptoms seen, or don’t get them seen until it’s far more serious.’
In September last year, four in ten GP appointments in England were not being held face-to-face despite mounting calls for doctors to see their patients in person, official figures showed.
NHS Digital’s monthly report found around 11.1million out of 28.5million appointments (39 per cent) throughout September 2021 were not in a surgery, with most being done over the phone or online.
By November, the rate increased to 63 per cent after intervention from ministers and is currently around 64 per cent.
The figure represents a significant drop from pre-pandemic levels when approximately 80 per cent of GP appointments were held face-to-face.
Complaints about GPs have almost tripled in a year with the ‘vast majority’ of those coming from people who were unable to book an appointment due to surgeries prioritising the booster rollout (stock image)
Rosie Benneyworth, a chief inspector of primary medical services at the CQC, who has stopped routine inspections of GP surgeries since the start of the pandemic, said: ‘We are seeing a significant increase in feedback on care for primary medical services.
‘The vast majority of this relates to concerns that we’re seeing about access to care in general practice.’
Dr Benneyworth said the increased feedback has mostly been ‘negative sentiment’, but the number of patients providing positive feedback has also increased from 804 to 1,462.
Professor Martin Marshall, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors and their teams were ‘working under intense workload and workforce’ before Covid but the pandemic had ‘exacerbated’ this.
He said the size of the workforce fell by six per cent between September 2015 and August 2021, while the number of patients grew, increasing the ratio of patients to GPs.
The above graph shows the proportion of GP appointments that were held with a doctor since February 2019. It reveals that the proportion is rising but is still far off pre-Covid levels
An NHS spokesman told the Telegraph: ‘The latest GP appointment figures show that general practice is working hard to ensure patients get the care they need, with more than 30 million appointments delivered in October and in response to patient feedback we have created a £250m access plan for general practices to improve access for patients and to support GP teams this winter.
‘General practice continues to play a vital role in delivering the fastest and most successful vaccination programme in NHS history, with more than 3.5 million people vaccinated by GPs last month – 2.5 million more than during September.’
Recent research showed family doctors are being overwhelmed by a small group of ‘frequent attenders’ who have five times more appointments than other patients.
A study of 1.7 billion GP consultations over the past two decades found 40 per cent of all appointments in the UK are taken up by just ten per cent of patients.
These ‘regulars’ attend their GP surgery around 60 times a year, five times more than other patients.
The University of Manchester research — which looked at 12.3million patients over 20 years — found the number of appointments for ‘frequent attenders’ has doubled in the past 20 years.
This has contributed to ‘unmanageable’ workloads for family doctors and led to a reduction in face-to-face appointments for other patients, even before the pandemic.