Concerns raised on the adequacy of time-limited GP appointments

8th May 2018

Written by Nafisa Ismail, medical negligence solicitor at Fletchers. 

The British Journal of General Practice recently published its findings into the study on multimorbidity in adults and their impact on the use of the health service.

The study completed in the UK found that just under a third of patients were described as having multimorbidity, with such patients accounting for over half of GP consultations and hospital admissions as well as nearly 80% of prescriptions.

With GP practices continuing to work within 10-minute appointment slots, such remarkable results have caused previous concerns on the limit to patient-GP time to resurface.

General Practitioners Committee Chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, stressed that people with more conditions require more care and that such individuals, ‘may attend with one issue in mind, but may, in fact, have three, four or even five issues that need addressing and to do that in a 10-minute consultation is not possible.’

Similar concerns were echoed by Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard who advised that the findings were ‘further evidence of the increasing complexity of cases that GPs are dealing with and the inadequacy of the standard 10-minute consultation’.

The study supports the BMA’s concerns which led to their proposal to cap consultation numbers to 25 routine or 10 complex consultations per day, to ensure safe workload limit for GPs.

What is of concern is whether restricting time for consultations ultimately impacts on the standard of care provided to patients. Whilst not always the case, our experience shows that clinical negligence matters against GP’s often arise when there has been a failure to take into account fully patients presenting symptoms, a worsening clinical picture and often a failure to recognise the ‘bigger picture’ in a patient’s presentation. Conditions often remain undiagnosed, untreated or not further investigated on multiple occasions.

It cannot be ignored that GP care is under growing pressure to provide an adequate service to an ever growing and longer living population and that this warrants structure within Primary Care. However capacity should never be a substitute for reasonable treatment and that GP practices and individual GP’s have an ethical duty and responsibility to ensure that adequate assessments are completed even if they go over and beyond the allotted 10 minutes.

This study highlights the growing need for GP to take a patient by the patient approach and not doing so will only look to increase errors and substandard care, often resulting in fatal or life-changing injuries for patients that it ultimately impacts upon.

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