Royal College of GPs wants consultations extended to 15 minutes

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GP consultations must be extended from 10 to 15 minutes, given the growing number of people who have several long-term illnesses, according to a report from the Royal College of GPs.

The Guardian reports that the 10-minute appointment that is usual across the National Health Service (NHS) is no longer adequate given the growing number of people who have several long-term illnesses, according to a report from the Royal College of GPs. However, while longer consultations are needed to ensure proper patient care, they will only be possible if the staffing of GP surgeries increases significantly, the college admits.

“It is abundantly clear that the standard 10-minute appointment is unfit for purpose. It’s increasingly rare for a patient to present with a just single health condition and we cannot deal with this adequately in 10 minutes,” said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the college’s chair is quoted in the report as saying. “GPs want to deliver truly holistic care to our patients, considering all the physical, psychological and social factors potentially impacting on their health. But this depends on us having more time to spend with patients and the resources and people to allow us to do this.”

Face-to-face consultations will need to last at least 15 minutes by 2030, and longer for those whose health demands it, the RCGP makes clear in its report.

The report says family doctors have become increasingly frustrated in recent years at not being able to allocate patients more than the usual 10 minutes as the ageing population and rise in long-term conditions has made caring for patients more complex and challenging. A growing number of people have a combination of at least two conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer, depression and breathing problems, so need more time to discuss their treatment.

But even as demand for appointments has grown, the report says GP numbers have been falling in England, with more family doctors in their 50s and 60s taking early retirement to escape the stresses of their jobs. “NHS bodies across the UK do not stipulate how long GP appointments should be, but GP workload is soaring, GP numbers are falling and patients are already waiting too long to secure an appointment as a result,” Stokes-Lampard said. “Without more resources and an expanded workforce, longer consultations would simply mean increased waiting times, undermining patients’ ability to access the care that they need.”

The report says Britain has some of the shortest GP consultations among rich countries, typically lasting 9.2 minutes, research has found. A separate study showed that a typical appointment involved discussion of two and a half health problems. “The number of people with a single chronic condition increased by 4%, and with multiple chronic conditions by 8% per year between 2003-04 and 2015-16, and that patients with long-term conditions account for around 50% of all GP appointments,” the RCGP says.

Its report, Fit For The Future, also says that GP practices will need to evolve into “wellbeing hubs”, where patients are seen by a team of health professionals, with access increasingly being by digital and video means. Physiotherapists, pharmacists, dieticians, health coaches, practice nurses, occupational therapists and link workers will play a growing role, so that not every patient has to see a GP.

The report says family doctor numbers in England are dropping despite a key pledge in 2015 by then health secretary Jeremy Hunt to expand the workforce by 5,000 by 2020.

A spokesperson for NHS England and NHS Improvement said: “The NHS long-term plan means an extra £4.5bn is being invested in primary and community care, alongside the recruitment of 20,000 physios, therapists and other health experts to offer patient more access to specialist care in GP teams, building on success in the last year alone which has seen GPs across the country free up an extra half a million hours of time for patients.”

The Guardian report
RCGP report


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