Access to GP services

We analyse results from the GP Patient Survey to assess how access to GP practices has changed over time.

Indicator

Last updated: 14/08/2020

Access and waiting times Patient experience
Primary and community care Integrated care

Background

Good access to general practice is an important element of the quality of care. The GP Patient Survey gives patients the opportunity to feed back about their experiences of their GP practice and other local NHS services, and answer questions on a range of issues such as access to services.


How easy is it for patients to get through to someone at their GP practice on the phone? 14/08/2020

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GP Patient Survey respondents were asked, “Generally, how easy is it to get through to someone at your GP practice on the phone?”. The majority of patients found it easy (‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’), however this proportion fell from 81% in 2012 to 65% in 2020. The proportion of patients who found it ‘not at all easy’ to get through to someone at their GP practice on the phone increased from 5% to 13% over the same time period. People who responded ‘haven’t tried’ have been excluded for comparison purposes.


How easy is it for patients to look for information or access services on their GP practice’s website? 14/08/2020

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Since 2018, GP Patient Survey respondents have been asked “How easy is it to use your GP practice’s website to look for information or access services?”. Between 2018 and 2020, the proportion of patients who found it ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’ decreased slightly from 78% to 76%. The proportion of patients who found it ‘not at all easy’ remained roughly constant at 7%, while the proportion of patients who said it was ‘not very easy’ increased slightly from 15% to 17%. People who responded ‘haven’t tried’ have been excluded for comparison purposes.


How long do patients wait for an appointment to take place after initially trying to book? 14/08/2020

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Until 2017, GP Patient Survey respondents who said that they were able to get an appointment to see or speak to a GP or nurse the last time they tried were asked, "How long after initially contacting the surgery did you actually see or speak to them?". Between 2012 and 2017, the proportion of patients who answered 'a week or more later' increased significantly from 13% to 21%, indicating that access to GP surgeries has worsened. However, the proportion of patients who stated that they saw or spoke to a GP or nurse 'on the same day' as initially contacting the surgery increased slightly from 38% in 2012 to 40% in 2017. Therefore, most of the offset was due to a decrease in those who responded that they saw or spoke to a GP or nurse 'on the next working day' or 'a few days later'.

The question was changed in the 2018 GP Patient Survey to ask, "How long after initially trying to book the appointment did the appointment take place?". Between 2018 and 2020, the proportion of patients who said that the appointment took place ‘on the same day’ remained constant at 35%, but those who said the appointment took place ‘a week or more later’ increased from 25% to 28%. Note that these results are not directly comparable with those from previous surveys. Please see ‘About this data’ for more information.


If patients have a doctor they prefer to see at their practice, how often do they see or speak to them? 14/08/2020

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Enabling patients to see or speak to the GP they prefer is important for continuity of care, and evidence suggests that it can lead to more satisfied patients and clinicians, reduce costs and result in better health outcomes.

Until 2017, GP Patient Survey respondents who stated that they have a doctor they prefer to see at their surgery were asked, "How often do you see or speak to the GP you prefer?". Between 2012 and 2017, the proportion of patients who ‘always or almost always' saw or spoke to the GP they prefer decreased from 42% to 33%. Those that 'never or almost never' saw or spoke to the GP they prefer increased from 6% to 9% over the same time period. This indicates that continuity of care in general practice may have worsened. Note that those who responded 'not tried at this GP surgery' were excluded for comparison purposes.

The 2018 GP Patient Survey altered the question slightly to, "How often do you see or speak to your preferred GP when you would like to?". Between 2018 and 2020, the proportion of patients who ‘always or almost always’ saw or spoke to their preferred GP decreased from 26% to 22% and those that answered ‘never or almost never’ increased from 10% to 12%. These results are not directly comparable with previous surveys. See ‘About this data’ for further information.


About this data

In 2018, two key changes were made to the GP Patient Survey:

  • the content of the questionnaire was changed significantly to reflect changes in the delivery of primary care services in England.
  • the sample frame was extended to include 16-17-year-olds for the first time to improve the inclusivity of the survey.

Analyses were carried out by Ipsos MORI to measure the impact of these changes on the comparability of trend data. These analyses found that most trend data were subject to context effects both as a result of changes to the questionnaire and the inclusion of 16-17-year-olds. As a result, two of the indicators presented here from the GP Patient Surveys carried out from 2018 onwards are not comparable with results from previous surveys. The question that asks, “Generally, how easy is it to get through to someone at your GP practice on the phone?” was not impacted by context effects or the inclusion of 16-17-year-olds, so is comparable over time at a national level.

The data was weighted to adjust for differences between all patients at a GP practice and the subset of patients who actually completed the questionnaire.

Fieldwork for the 2020 GP Patient Survey took place between 2 January and 6 April 2020. This means that some responses were collected after the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak began in England. Analysis was conducted to understand whether the pandemic had an impact on results. The analysis found that, as only 1.2% of responses were received after lockdown measures were implemented, the results of the survey and validity of comparisons with previous surveys were not impacted by the pandemic.

For more detailed information, please see the GP Patient Survey - Technical Annex.

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