People are just as likely to be given a telephone appointment when they call their GP surgery as they are to see a doctor face-to-face, new NHS data suggests.
The GP patient survey for England of more than 850,000 people found that, of those who accept an appointment, 48% see someone at the practice, while 47% speak to someone over the phone for medical help.
The survey was completed between January and April this year, reflecting on people’s experiences during the pandemic.
Compared with previous surveys, fewer patients had an appointment to see someone at their GP practice (48% compared with 85% in 2020) and many more spoke to someone on the phone (47% compared with 10% in 2020).
The data found that those patients who last had an in-person appointment were more likely to say their needs were met (95%) compared with those who spoke to someone remotely (92%).
Overall, 42% said they had avoided making a GP appointment in the past 12 months, with a fifth of those saying this was because they were worried about the burden on the NHS, 17% because they were worried about catching Covid, 11% because they found it too difficult and 4% because they did not have the time.
However, there has been a slight rise in patient satisfaction with GP services in general, with 83% having a good overall experience of their GP practice (compared to 82% the previous year).
Meanwhile, one in 10% said their experience of their GP practice was ‘neither good nor poor’ and 7% said their experience was poor.
Some 96% had confidence and trust in the health professional at their most recent appointment (up from 95% in 2020) and 59% of patients saw or spoke to someone at a time they wanted or sooner (57% in 2020).
Meanwhile, just over seven in 10 (71%) also said their overall experience of making an appointment was good (compared with 66% in 2020).
Elsewhere, the poll found a slight drop in the percentage saying out-of-hours services were good, with only two-thirds (66%) of people satisfied with the options when their GP practice was closed.
And when it came to IT, of those who had tried to use their GP practice’s website to look for information or access services, 75% found it easy to use but a quarter did not.
Beccy Baird, senior fellow at the King’s Fund, said: “The GP patient survey shows that despite the huge pressure on GPs at the beginning of the year, patients reported increased levels of satisfaction.
“Over 95% of people said that they had confidence and trust in the person caring for them at their last appointment, and five in six said they had a good experience using their GP practice.
“This is reassuring but these results are not spread evenly, with people living in more deprived areas more likely to report negative experiences.
“Over 40% of people avoided making appointments, in many cases to protect the NHS or because they were worried about catching Covid-19.
“As this pent-up demand starts to come back into the system many GPs, and other parts of the health and care system, are facing a capacity crunch.
“The Government and NHS leaders need to consider how general practice will be supported to work with other NHS and care services to make sure that people continue to be able to access the care they need.”
Dr Nikki Kanani, GP and NHS national medical director for primary care, said it had been an “incredibly challenging year for everyone” so it was good to see that overall trust and satisfaction with general practice had increased.
She added: “Feedback from patients is really important and we use it to see how services can develop and improve, and we would urge all those who delayed seeking advice in the last year to come forward, as the NHS is still here for you.”