In just five years patients across England could be waiting more than a week for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on more than 100 million occasions, according to a new projection by the Royal College of GPs.

The College is warning that, if current trends continue, the number of instances when it takes more than a week to get an appointment will rise by more than 20 million by 2021/22.

It also says that further analysis of data garnered from the recently published GP Patient Survey shows that GP access across England is currently patchy, with patients in 21 clinical commissioning group areas already waiting at least a week for an appointment more than a quarter of the time.

Some of the worst areas to secure a timely GP appointment include Corby (36 percent), Fareham and Gosport (34 percent), Swindon (31 percent) and Central London (Westminster; 31 percent) where currently over three in 10 of patients are waiting seven days or more to see their family doctor or practice nurse, it notes.

The RGCP is warning that if the situation does not improve it poses “a genuine risk to patient safety”.

“If these patients can’t secure an appointment with their GP when they need one, it’s probable that they will return at some point to another area of the NHS, when their condition may have worsened, and where their care will cost the health service significantly more - something which could’ve been avoided if they’d been able their GP in the first instance,” argued Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, RCGP Chair.

Highlighting the current pressures on the system, the College stressed that workload in general practice has risen 16 percent over the last seven years but that investment has declined over the same period, and also that workforce numbers have taken a downturn since last year.

NHS England’s GP Forward View, which makes over 100 pledges including an extra £2.4 billion a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs, could be the lifeline needed but the RCGP is concerned it is not being delivered as quickly as is necessary.

“We need it delivered, in full, and as a matter of urgency, if it is to have a chance at protecting our profession, the wider NHS, and ensuring our patients receive the care they need and deserve,” stressed Prof Stokes-Lampard.