Notorious 8am phone rush for a GP appointment 'must change'

Female Doctor at her Office Dialing a Telephone

More GP appointments are now taking place over the phone (stock image) - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Health directors have admitted the 8am phone rush has to change if GP demand is met in the face of unprecedented levels.

The Essex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard that whilst there was a reduction in demand on primary care services during the national lockdowns, the demand has significantly increased compared to pre pandemic (2019/20) numbers.

In Mid and South Essex, an additional 314,000 appointments were undertaken in 2021/22, in North East Essex, an additional 83,000 appointments were undertaken in that time and in West Essex, an additional 102,000 appointments were undertaken in 2021/22 compared to 2019/20.

The current demands on GPs have been described as “unprecedented”.

William Guy, director of primary care for Mid and South Essex, told the committee: “It is challenging for our population to get access to primary care and I think we need to acknowledge that that is the situation.

“There are different perceptions as to why that’s happening I think what we’re trying to demonstrate that is that that is largely driven by demand rather than by GPs shutting their doors as it’s kind of commonly perceived in some areas."

The stress on GP services has come even with a sharp decrease in face to face appointments – from 83pc in 2019/20 to 65pc in 2021/22. Telephone appointments have gone from 11pc to 30pc during that time.

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The GP workforce has remained relatively stable in numbers in West Essex and Mid and South Essex and have seen a reasonable increase in North East Essex.

But Mr Guy said increases in demands needs to be met with changes in the way people try to get an appointment in the first place – specifically the notorious rush at 8am when the appointment telephone lines open.

He said: “We’ve got to develop a system that can cater for the needs that present so the patients have got confidence that they can access services at a different time and get a response.

“At the moment patients quite rightly are calling at 8am because they believe that’s the only way they’re going to be able to access primary care. You sit on the telephone and then keep redialing until you get through.

“My need wasn’t urgent and I would have been quite happy to wait for a couple of weeks for an appointment but that’s not the system we’ve got at the moment.

“Therefore we do need to change that model in its entirety."