GPs will be named and shamed over failure to see patients face to face

GP surgery, doctors appointment - Adam Gault/Science Photo Library
GP surgery, doctors appointment - Adam Gault/Science Photo Library

GPs failing to see patients face to face will be named and shamed for the first time, amid concerns that poor access to family doctors is fuelling a growing A&E crisis.

On Thursday, the NHS will publish data on every GP surgery in England, showing how long people have to wait for an appointment and the proportion occurring in person.

There is massive variation between practices, and the data is expected to reveal the surgeries where the majority of appointments are “remote”.

Across the country, roughly two-thirds of appointments take place in person, compared with eight in 10 before the pandemic.

The news comes as hospitals are under unprecedented pressure, with health chiefs set to launch a national campaign urging the public to avoid A&E as much as possible this winter.

The drive will urge people to turn to the NHS 111 website as their first port of call.

Health chiefs said that A&E departments have never before been under so much strain, with a record 2.17 million attendances last month. Regulators warned that health services became “gridlocked”, with struggles to access GP care “exacerbating the high pressure on urgent and emergency care services”.

Ministers have pledged to improve access to GPs, saying that everyone should be able to get an appointment within two weeks.

However, one in five patients are currently waiting longer and one in 10 faces a wait in excess of three weeks.

Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, NHS, doctors - Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, NHS, doctors - Chris J Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Ahead of the GP data being released, Steve Barclay, the Health Secretary, said that the transparency drive would help patients make a more informed choice.

He said: “We promised to prioritise patients and improve access, and that is exactly what we have done. This is just the start.

“I am determined to make it easier for people to get an appointment with their GP practice when they need one and this will allow patients to make a more informed choice about the care they receive.”

However, GP leaders criticised the move, saying the data would create arbitrary “league tables” that do not account for the pressures on practices which appeared to be performing the worst.

Since the first lockdown in March 2020, practices have introduced systems of telephone triage, with many patients, especially the elderly, complaining that they struggle to see a doctor in person.

More than one in 10 patients who could not get a GP appointment end up at A&E, the Care Quality Commission warned last month.

The public will be told that while A&E and 999 should still be used for emergencies, the NHS 111 website is the best place to receive non-urgent help.

Health bosses said that many patients trying to get help from casualty units would be better off being helped elsewhere, saying that two in five A&E attendances are avoidable.

Prof Sir Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, said: “Last month, our hard-working staff contended with another record month of A&E attendances and the most serious ambulance callouts, which is only the tip of the iceberg of the growing pressures that the NHS is facing this winter.”

Sir Stephen Powis - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire
Sir Stephen Powis - Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire

Sir Stephen said that problems were being exacerbated by difficulties with discharging patients into social care, as well as the threat of a “twindemic” of Covid and flu.

He added: “This new campaign will remind the public that NHS 111 online is available to signpost people to the best option for their care needs ahead of winter. It can provide the most appropriate local treatment option for medical issues quickly without needing to leave your home and saving you an unnecessary trip to A&E.”

However, Sir Stephen stressed that it was “vital” that those facing emergencies continue to call 999 and use A&E.

Separate data show record pressures on ambulance services. The figures for October, shared with The Telegraph, show almost 15,000 patients stuck in ambulances outside hospital for at least three hours – double the figure in May.

The numbers include 850 patients stuck in ambulances for at least 10 hours, up from 387 in May.

The statistics from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE) show that almost a quarter of ambulance capacity is now being lost to delays, up from seven per cent before the pandemic.

The organisation estimated that during October, 44,000 patients were put at risk of harm because of the waits they endured.

Martin Flaherty, the managing director of the AACE, said that the unprecedented delays were “crippling” the service, and putting patients in danger.

Prof Kamila Hawthorne, the chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said that family doctors had “serious concerns” about attempts to compare practices, and added that practices served very different populations.

“We worry that this data will be used to create arbitrary ‘league tables’ that don’t account for different patient demographics and ways of working,” she said.

“Those that appear at the bottom will face undue criticism at a time when the profession is already demoralised and working under intense pressures.”