7 February 2017

BBC Health Check on General Practice - RCGP Responds

As part of the BBC Health Check week, the BBC have published two stories about general practice. The first exploring public opinion on charging for missed GP appointments and the second looking at the standard 10-minute GP-patient consultation. Our responses:

On charging patients for missed GP appointments:

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “When patients don’t turn up for booked appointments it can be incredibly frustrating, especially at a time when demand for appointments is so high and some patients are having to wait a month to see their GP.

“GP practices are doing a lot of work to avoid patients missing appointments, such as sending email and text message reminders, with positive effects – and we would urge all of our patients, if they can’t make an appointment, to let us know as soon as possible so that we can offer it to someone else.

“But charging patients when they miss appointments would involve significant overhaul of the administrative systems involved in general practice for very little monetary return as many people using services would be exempt from the charges. If a modest sum was charged, it would not be cost effective to set up – and if a more realistic figure was applied, it would disproportionately affect patients who are already struggling.

“In terms of introducing a charge to be able to see a GP within 24 hours – this would create a two-tier system of privatised general practice whereby those patients who can afford it get the care they need, when they need it, whilst those who can’t are pushed to the back of the queue to wait longer.

“This would not help with the shortage of clinical staff and would fundamentally change one of the founding principles of the NHS, that care is free at the point of need, and is not something that the RCGP would support.”

On GP-patient consultation times:

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “We have an ageing population in the UK, which is a great success of our society as a whole, but as our patients grow older many are inevitably living with more than one long-term condition, making the standard GP-patient consultation increasingly inadequate.

“GPs want to spend more time with our patients. We want the time to talk through all the different things that might be making a patient ill, and come up with a solid treatment plan in the best interests of their long term health – that’s what GPs do. But with so many patients living with multiple conditions, affecting both physical and mental health, this simply isn’t possible in 10 minutes.

“If we were able to offer longer patient consultations as standard, the current pressures facing general practice would make this incredibly difficult to fit in. Demand for our services has risen exponentially over the last few years, with recent research showing a 15% rise in patient consultations since 2010, but the number of GPs has not risen in step. Longer consultation times for some would mean fewer consultations on offer overall.

“In England, the GP Forward View offers a lifeline for our profession with promises of £2.4bn more a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2020. These pledges need to be implemented as a matter of urgency, and we need to see similar promises in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“But as it stands in England, there are two Sustainability and Transformation Plans that actually propose reducing the GP workforce, there are five that don’t mention the GP Forward View at all – and there are many others where the plans for general practice are vague at best. This is against all common sense – the future of our health service relies on high quality, robust general practice to underpin the rest of the NHS and provide care efficiently in the community.

“We need more GPs, more practice staff and more resources for general practice right across the UK so that we can offer our patients more appointments, and longer appointments to those who need them.”

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7574/7575/7633
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 50,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.