Patients in Britain get less time with their GPs than patients in Peru, a new study has found.
On average, patients in Britain spend just 9 minutes 22 seconds with their GPs. In fact, GP consultations in Britain are among the shortest in Europe and it will take 70 years before the NHS achieves 15-minute appointments.
Patients in Lithuania, Belgium and Portugal all enjoy longer visits to their doctors than Britons. Also, British patients also see their family doctor for less time than their counterparts in the USA, Sweden, Canada, Spain and Japan.
According to the study by Cambridge University, which was published in BMJ Open, the average GP appointment in the UK is increasing by just 4.2 seconds a year.
The 15-minute appointment target that the NHS is working towards achieving was called for by the British Medical Association. It argues that doctors cannot make a thorough diagnosis in less than 15 minutes. However, if the current trend continues, the 15-minute target will not be hit by the NHS until 2086.
28 countries have longer consultation times than Britain
For the analysis, the Cambridge researchers looked at available appointment data for 67 countries across the world. They found that 28 had longer consultation times than Britain.
Bangladesh was identified as the country with the shortest average appointment times, just 48 seconds, while Sweden had the longest at 22.5 minutes.
Patients in Lithuania, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Cyprus and Peru all enjoy 15-minute appointments – third longer than their counterparts in the UK.
Dr Greg Irving, of the Primary Care Unit at Cambridge, said short consultations “adversely affect patient care” and add to the stress and workload of doctors.
“A lack of time in the consultation is a key constraint to delivering expert generalist care”, he said.
Britain ‘among the worst in the world’
Meanwhile, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it highlighted that appointment times in Britain were among the worst in the world.
“The time GPs have to spend 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 – so it’s concerning to see that every UK study included in this research shows that we are spending less than 10 minutes on average with our patients during their consultation”, she said.
She added that the standard 10-minute appointment is inadequate to deal with the increasing needs of patients who are living with “multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological”.
Just last month, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted that 10-minute appointments are not long enough to meet the needs of every patient. He said that GPs are on a “hamster wheel” of 30 or 40 patients a day. He also added that if GPs cut some patients out, they would have more energy to do their jobs properly.
The problem with offering longer appointments is that there will be less of them to go around. With some patients already having to wait a week or more for an appointment, this reality isn’t ideal.
Can you wait another 70 years before the time you spend with a GP reaches the required 15 minutes?
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