GPs call for more time with patients - as Ministers look for £20bn in NHS savings

Patients are being put at risk by GPs failing to diagnose them properly because appointment times are too short, a survey reveals.

Two out of five family doctors said the brief consultations affected their ability to make a diagnosis, while half said they spent less time with patients than five years ago.

Separate research last month found two-thirds of people thought NHS appointments were rushed.

The findings come as the Government released a report outlining the scale of cutbacks needed in the NHS to meet efficiency savings of £20billion by 2014.

GP and patient

Hampered: Around half of the 200 GPs surveyed said their diagnosis was affected by short appointment times

Management consultants McKinsey warned the last Labour government that thousands of jobs would have to go in a report leaked to the media in the autumn.

It also said nurses spent just 41 per cent of their time on patient care, with half of midwives' time spent dealing directly with patients.

The study of 200 GPs, from insurer Aviva UK Health, found 57 per cent said they had less time with people than five years ago. Half believed short appointment times affected their ability to do their job, while only seven per cent were confident it had no impact.

Nearly 90 per cent of GPs would like 20 minutes per patient - double the standard of ten minutes each.

GP cartoon

Some 85 per cent used online tools to diagnose patients but just 5 per cent said this was because they are pressed for time.

GP Dr Hugh Laing, who worked on the study, said: 'Our research shows that GPs are overstretched and this can affect the quality of support they are able to offer.

'Web-based technology has revolutionised the way we all work. But ultimately there is no substitute for a thorough assessment by a qualified GP and this is clearly not happening in many cases.

'As such, we urge the new coalition Government to support and work with GPs to ensure delivery of the right care for patients.'

Dr Laurence Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GPs committee, said he was not surprised to hear that doctors 'feel overstretched'.

'Pressure on general practice has been growing as more work has been transferred from hospitals and paperwork has increased,' he added.

'The BMA, and many patients, believe appointment times should be longer because we know GPs would like more time to care for patients. However, that means we would also need more GPs.'

NHS figures show appointment times were 11.7 minutes on average in 2008/09, up from 8.4 in 1992/3.

However, a Department of Health spokesman said the survey results were 'misleading'.

'GP appointment times have actually increased over the past 15 years,' he added.

'GPs are best placed to make decisions about the length of their appointments based on their clinical judgment.'

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: 'The McKinsey report highlights the sheer scale of the financial challenge the NHS is facing.

'It is vital nursing staff are involved in discussions about efficiency savings to ensure quality and patient safety does not suffer.'

Meanwhile, a top doctor said NHS Trusts are compiling lists of treatments to be decommissioned or reduced in an effort to make £ 20billion of efficiency savings by 2014.

Among treatments which could be targeted are hernias, joint replacements and cataract surgery.

Dr Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association's consultants committee, warned NHS bosses were seeking 'wholesale reductions in budgets'.

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