UK GPs could be failing to tackle potentially major health problems because of a reluctance to address sensitive issues and significant time constraints, a survey by health insurance group Aviva Health UK has revealed.

Now in its fourth year, Aviva's Health of the Workplace report has uncovered "a worrying trend" in primary care, which, it warns, "could exacerbate the UK’s health issues" unless a major shift in attitude is achieved.

The survey showed that, in a significant number of cases (41%), GPs avoid broaching sensitive subjects with patients such as obesity (47%), alcohol misuse (19%) and smoking (13%) for fear of causing upset, and that patients are equally adverse to raising such issues, with 43% saying they never discussed general health concerns with their GP.

In addition, many patients showed an "alarming lack of knowledge" of basic health indicators, Aviva said, with a significant number only 'vaguely aware' of their body weight and 68% completely unaware of their blood pressure level, despite these being important early warning signs for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

And it seems that time pressures are a major contributing to this lack of communication between doctors and patients, with (58%) of individuals claiming a lack of time prevents them from raising more general health concerns with their GP and, on the other side of the fence, 97% of GPs saying they would like more patient time than the average seven minutes face-to-face contact that is the current status quo.

"GPs are tremendously busy and under pressure to deal with high numbers of patients and a growing administrative workload. It’s therefore important that individuals continue to be encouraged to take more control of their own health," noted Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant at Aviva UK Health, but he also stressed that "continued collaboration between the Government, the health service and key industry leaders is essential if we are to truly address the ongoing public health issues".