Family doctors in the UK have less than half the time they feel they need to see patients, affecting their ability to make accurate diagnoses and thereby impacting on service quality, a survey by insurance group Aviva Health has revealed.

More than half (57%) of GPs surveyed said they have less time with patients now than they did five years ago, and just 7% said shorter consultation times were not interfering with their ability to do their job properly, ultimately posing a potential risk to patients.

The GP survey, part of Aviva’s annual Health of the Workplace report, found that a huge majority of doctors - 89% - felt that patient consultations should be allowed 20 minutes, a far cry from the currently allotted 10-minute slots.

This notion also seems to be supported by those on the other side of the fence, as research undertaken by the company last month found that 63% of consumers feel National Health Service appointments are always rushed.

Findings of the survey indicate that current time constraints on appointments are already affecting patient care; 50% of doctors said a lack of time with their patients “definitely affects their ability to do their job”, while 43% said it makes it more difficult to make an accurate diagnosis, Aviva said.

A better experience
“While the coalition government has outlined its health policies focusing on improving access to GPs and offering a wider choice of doctors, both patients and GPs are clearly demanding a better GP experience, and access times and choice are just one piece of this jigsaw,” noted GP Hugh Laing, consultant for Health of The Workplace.

And commenting on the survey's findings, Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GPs Committee, told PharmaTimes UK News that “it’s not surprising to hear that many GPs feel they are overstretched; pressure on general practice has been growing in recent years as more work has been transferred from hospitals and paperwork has increased. Our aging population also needs more care, more often".

But while both the BMA and many patients believe appointment times should be longer, this means we would also need more GPs, "otherwise it will just become harder to see a doctor because there would be fewer appointments available", he added.

Elsewhere, the survey also found that 85% of GPs are turning to online resources such as search engines to help them make diagnoses. “Fast access to high quality information can be an invaluable support for patients and professionals but ultimately there is no substitute for a thorough assessment by a qualified GP and from our research this is clearly not happening in many cases,” Laing stressed.