Major change to GP appointments set to affect millions

A change to GP appointments this month means doctors must offer an "appropriate response" to patients the first time they get in touch.

GP practices that are unable to offer immediate appointments to patients must either provide an on-the-spot assessment, or redirect them to an "appropriate medical service".

The move was introduced by NHS England, with the aim of helping more people get appointments, to "ensure consistency in the access patients can expect".

Under the move, doctors must provide a response to patients the first time they get in touch, which could be by "communicating with the patient" or referring them to NHS 111 or another relevant health service.

The regulation also states they can "where appropriate, take into account the preferences of the patient".

However, the move has sparked concern amongst health leaders, as it has elicited fears it will push more NHS staff out of the industry – ultimately making access to care even more difficult.

British Medical Association said of the move: "With GPs numbers decreasing, consultation numbers higher than ever, and general practice being under-resourced, we think this government-imposed contract will push GPs and practices to the brink of their existence, within the NHS. For this and other reasons GPCE rejected the contract changes.'

Between 2016 and 2022, the number of people on patient lists jumped from 58 million to 62 million, meanwhile family doctors number dropped by nearly 3,000.

The new regulation will be effective from May 15 onwards.