Why does it take so long to see a GP?

Waiting in a clinic


It’s a familiar scene – sitting down at the end of a long day you might notice a headache, a bit of tenderness, or even an unusual twinge in your thumb as you manically try to skip past Love Island on the remote. Like the responsible adult you are, you’ll tell yourself that you’ll visit the GP in the morning. However, when the time arrives you’re politely told that the nearest available appointment is in thirteen days, the average wait time in the UK.

If you ask the smiling receptionist, they’ll likely respond sympathetically, taking a moment to glance at your throbbing thumb before saying something along the lines of: “I don’t know actually” or “good question”. At Qured we’ve also been found to wonder why GP queues are so long, luckily we’ve got an answer though. 


The country is getting older

The great thing about medicine is that it allows people to live longer, happier and healthier lives. In fact, the average baby Brit can now expect to live around 12 years longer than their relatives born in 1951. Part of this is an improvement in diet, living conditions, and an ability to side-step terrible childhood-illnesses of the past thanks to routine vaccinations. It does mean that more people need looking after for longer though. After all, many elderly people require treatment for the wear and tear of a life well lived. Hip-replacements won’t insert themselves, chronic conditions may require constant medication and as we become older we’re more vulnerable to illnesses such as seasonal flu.

Another important aspect of ageing is the development of so-called “co-morbidities”. Simply put, longer lives mean that, over time, people develop two, or three, or even four conditions at a time – like a sticker album that no-one wants to fill.  Looking at the age profile of the UK, the whole country is slowly becoming older, which, taking everything into account, only means one thing. The country might just need to knock at the GP’s door a little more often.


Not every Doctor is a GP

Although every GP is a doctor, not every doctor is a GP. General practice is just one of many routes you can choose to take while navigating the maze of medical school, with the majority choosing to work in hospitals as more focused specialists. Unfortunately the number of medical students choosing to become community GPs is actually shrinking. Of these a number might choose to venture into the fur-lined trappings of private medicine, leaving a smaller number than you might think. Fortunately the NHS employ many thousands of highly skilled GPs and doctors from abroad, however it’s still a concerning trend.


There’s a cap on medical undergraduates

Unlike most other courses, there’s a strict limit on the number of medical students a university can take on. Up until 2018 this figure stood at a rather conservative 6,000, tiny in comparison the number studying teaching for example (over 90,000). This makes sense on a certain level – after all, medical training requires intensive one-on-one education, access to patients and a great deal of rather shiny equipment. With this in mind, the thought of a 90,000 strong swarm of panicked med students might just be scarier than none at all.

Medicine in the UK is unique in the fact that the NHS partly funds its students. Therefore another issue is simply one of cost. It’s thought that every fresh-faced student is subsidised somewhere to the tune of £200,000. The more students, the higher the cost to the taxpayer. One theory states that because it takes eight years to see an increase in places translate to an increase in doctors, governments don’t tend to be overly interested in increasing the cap – they know that by the time graduation comes, they could well be out of office. As a counterargument people can now point to the fact that the cap has risen slightly this year to reflect the growing need for more GPs. As of September 2018, an extra 1,500 places have been made available.


An increase in preventable illness

Although medical technologies have helped life expectancies steadily creep up, there’s a worry that this trend can’t outrun the rising tide of preventable illnesses which have occurred over the last 20 years. These are conditions developed due to various lifestyle choices – taking steroids, or having a diet of light bulbs for example. However, in the eyes of the NHS there are three big causes of most preventable illness: alcohol, smoking and obesity.

To start with some good news, smoking has substantially decreased in the last 10 years, meaning that although illness caused through smoking is still a huge issue, the number of cases are slowly dropping year on year. On the other hand the rate of illnesses directly linked to alcohol consumption has skyrocketed, rising 17% from 2006/07. As well as being heavily linked to diseases of the heart, it’s thought that this trend is one of the reasons why the only cancer that rises year on year is liver cancer.

Perhaps the most worrying trend is in regards to obesity. Although people rarely end up seeing a doctor purely because of obesity, it’s linked to a whole range of other conditions that can add up and seriously affect the quality of life. From joint damage to diabetes to heart disease, the total number of hospital admissions linked to obesity was over 600,000 in 2017. Even more worrying is the fact that 26% of adults are now classified as obese, up from 15% at the start of the millennium.

When all of these are taken into consideration, there’s no wonder that trips to the GP have become more frequent over recent years. With the news that only 16% of children hit their target for five portions of fruit and veg per day, perhaps it’s time to seriously revisit that age-old adage – ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’.

How can I skip GP queues?

To be honest there’s not a great deal you can do to speed things up if you’re making an appointment for a non-urgent matter. That said, children and the elderly are eligible for priority treatment, a fact worth bearing in mind if you’re a carer for either. For urgent matters you should call 111 and you’ll be directed to the appropriate service. For critical concerns you should always call 999.

There is one alternative to the non-urgent conundrum through, a reprieve from standing out in the drizzle waiting for your local surgery to open – A magical little thing called the Qured app. All you need is a home, workplace or hotel room and the ability to tap a button on your smartphone. In addition to GP’s, Qured brings physiotherapists, podiatrists and a range of highly skilled, experienced hospital doctors to your door, all within two hours. That’s right, hours not weeks. Download it today, or get in touch to find out more – after all, Love Island won’t play itself.