People trying to book GP appointments are facing stressful delays as they repeatedly have to contact their surgery to be seen by a doctor, leading medics have warned.
Latest figures which show it is taking more than two weeks to get a GP appointment in around a fifth of cases have raised fears over growing pressure on the system.
An analysis of waiting time figures from NHS Digital found that patients in Yorkshire and Humber waited 15 days or more for an appointment on more than 3.2m occasions in the six months to March this year.
NHS bosses have pointed out that many patients decide to pre-book their appointments in advance and that millions more appointments are now available to patients on evenings and weekends.
But the figures have raised fears that some practices are facing a daily struggle to allocate appointments to all the patients who need to be sen.
Dr Richard Vautrey, a Leeds doctor and the British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP Committee Chairman, said: “Some of this related to patients deliberately booking planned review appointments a few weeks in advance but many will be patients unable to get routine appointments.
“This is another sign of the huge pressure practices are under.”
Warnings have already been made over the strain facing GPs after doctors who took part in a national survey said they were seeing 41 patients each day on average, higher than the 30 patients they thought was a safe number. One in 10 were dealing with 60 or more patients - double the safe limit.
A report released in March by the King’s Fund, Nuffield Trust and Health Foundation thinktanks also that while the Government has pledged to recruit 5,000 more family doctors, a national shortage of GPs could reach 7,000 by 2024.
Research has also found that the number of GPs per 100,000 people in the country has fallen from 65 to 60, the first sustained reduction in numbers for half a century.
Dewsbury MP and Shadow Health Minister Paula Sherriff said: “I’ve been deeply concerned to hear the news this week that the NHS is seeing the first sustained fall in GP numbers in the UK for 50 years, while one in 10 GPs are now seeing twice as many patients as the safe limit.
“This is symptom of the incredible strain our NHS is under.
“Our GPs are bearing the burden of services around them being cut. When will the government start to listen and take action?”
NHS Digital figures analysed by The Yorkshire Post show there were waits of 15 days or more from the when appointments were booked to patients being seen on 19.2 per cent of occasions in the regional between October and March.
Of the 16.9m appointments in Yorkshire and Humber, around 41 per cent were provided on the same day but 2.3m took between eight and 14 days.
Dr Vautrey said practices have been “struggling with increasing demand and unable to recruit sufficient numbers of staff.”
He said: “It causes stress for everyone. It causes stress for the practices, they’re having to deal with huge numbers of patients and having to set up triage appointments.”
Dr Vautrey said that whole clinicians do their best to see people with urgent needs on the same day, “It’s clearly very stressful for patients, who are having to contact the practice on a daily basis.”
NHS England has announced plans to recruit thousands more staff to work at GP practices, including pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics and support workers.
Dr Vautrey said that in coming years practices would be supplemented by the extra staff, but added: “Ultimately, we need recruitment funding and more GPs and nurses in practice settings.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “We are committed to increasing investment of £4.5bn going into primary medical and community services each year by 2023-4
“Recent figures from Health Education England show the highest ever number of people entering GP training in NHS history with this year’s figure of 3,473 meaning that the annual target of 3,250 has been surpassed for the first time. 3,250 has been surpassed for the first time.”