Graphic: Doctors warn of longer waiting times for GP appointments in Norfolk and Suffolk

PUBLISHED: 16:05 01 September 2014 | UPDATED: 16:05 01 September 2014

GPs are warning that waiting times could get longer because of a recruitment crisis.

GPs are warning that waiting times could get longer because of a recruitment crisis.

Senior doctors have warned patients to expect more delays after new figures revealed that almost a sixth of Norfolk and Suffolk residents have to wait more than a week for a GP appointment.

Labour pledge on GP waiting times

There is no set NHS target for a maximum waiting time for new GP appointments. Doctors have been told to prioritise patients based on their clinical need.

However, Labour have pledged to introduce a 48 hour maximum wait, if they win the next general election.

The party’s two Labour candidates in Norwich will be campaigning on the issue over the coming months ahead of the May 2015 vote. They said 40pc of Norwich patients do not get to see their preferred doctor and more than 28,000 patients in Norwich have to wait more than a week for an appointment.

Labour has pledged to invest £100m in GP surgeries by scrapping NHS bureaucracy on market rules.

Clive Lewis, prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South, said: “With staff being cut and waiting lists going up, its also getting harder and harder for the people of Norwich to see their GP. If a Labour government is elected in nine months time, we would move quick to guarantee a 48 hour maximum waiting time to see your GP, and we’ll reverse the privatisation and profiteering of our NHS.”

Jess Asato, prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich North, added: “In Norwich more than 28,000 people have to wait for longer than a week to see their GP. This is a total failure by this Tory-led government.”

Increasing workloads, caused by an ageing population, and an ongoing recruitment “crisis” will mean that more people will have to wait more than seven days to see their family doctor, GPs in Norfolk and Waveney said.

The warning comes after the results of NHS England’s GP patient survey revealed that 14.46pc of people in Norfolk and Suffolk - higher than the national average - said they had to wait more than a week for an appointment.

However, despite the figure, less than 7pc of people who took part in the national survey in East Anglia said they would not recommend their GP to friends and family.

Cracks appearing

Cracks began appearing in Norfolk’s primary care system earlier this year after a surgery announced plans to de-register 1,500 patients from its list.

Officials from Watton Medical Practice said they had no choice but to redraw their catchment area because it had not been able to fill two GP vacancies.

The decision to take 1,500 people off the register put added pressure on the patient lists of neighbouring surgeries in East Harling, Kenninghall, Hingham, Shipdham and Swaffham.

The government announced in April that an extra £50m would be made available from the GP Access Fund to allow surgeries to open seven days a week and for longer hours.

However, when the Department of Health announced the more than 1,000 successful bidders for the money, not one GP practice in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire was on the list.

Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said: “GPs care deeply about our patients and are frustrated by the constraints that undermine our ability to do the best for them.”

“We are calling for long-term, sustainable investment in the things that will really make a difference – more GPs, more practice staff and fit for purpose GP buildings so we can deliver the care our patients deserve.”

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Local GPs warned that longer waits for appointments would only get worse because of dozens of unfilled vacancies in Norfolk and Waveney. The England average for GP waits more than a week is 13.66pc, according to the 2013/14 GP patient survey.

Tim Morton, chairman of the Norfolk and Waveney Local Medical Council and a partner at Beccles Medical Practice, said a Labour policy to introduce a 48 hour maximum waiting time to see a GP was “completely unrealistic.”

“We have a primary care service in crisis with huge difficulties recruiting, rising patient lists and significant workload . If there are not enough GPs to go around with increasing work loads from secondary care and increasing elderly population, it is important GPs prioritise their clinical work to those with the most need first. That may result in some people waiting a little longer than they would like.”

“There are increased number of practices in serious problems. If there is a lack of GPs then waiting times will continue to rise. It is a nationwide problem - it is not just Norfolk. Most GPs go into the profession to provide as good as service as humanly possible, but we are only human and most GPs are working 11 to 12 hour days,” he said.

There are 120 practices in Norfolk and Waveney and around half of 56 GP vacancies have not been filled since the start of the year.

Officials from the British Medical Association have called on the government to invest more in primary care after the GP share of the NHS budget reduced from 10.6pc to 8.5pc over the last five years.

A spokesman for NHS England in East Anglia said: “The demand for GP services has increased over the past few years and in order to support patients’ needs many practices have adjusted their approach to offering appointments. Appointments need to be made on the basis of clinical need and the GP practice will assess this with each patient individually.”

“There is more work to be done in the future to enable GP practices to remain the first point of contact for patients despite the increase in demand and, along with CCGs and NHS England, GP practices are considering how they can do this.”

“Overall, GP patient satisfaction remains high. In East Anglia, 88 per cent of patients said their overall experience of GP services was good.”

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