PATIENTS in Swindon faced some of the longest GP appointment waits in England, new figures reveal.

More than a quarter of people were left waiting over two weeks for a doctor’s appointment in the run up to Christmas. It meant Swindon was the worst performing areas in the country, according to NHS Digital statistics.

Recognising Swindon’s shortage of around 25 GPs, campaigners and councillors argued patients in the town were suffering as a result of lengthy waits. Swindon NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, which oversees primary care, said it was looking at different ways to ensure people could access care.

Read more: What you can do to keep waiting times down

Rosemarie Phillips, an elected governor at Great Western Hospital, said: “I think the CCG has a duty to all the people in Swindon, as do the doctors. As long as we have a shortage of GPs and those GPs are only working a three-day, 12-hour day, we are going to have this trouble. I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Comparing the situation today to the 1980s and 90s, when families might have expected to have always seen the same GP, Mrs Philips added: “It’s changed so much. I regret to say many patients are suffering as a result. The pressure on hospital emergency departments has increased enormously as a result of these changes.”

The figures, published by NHS Digital, show that in December, there were 93,626 appointments in the Swindon CCG area. 

Just over a third – 37 per cent of people – saw their GP on the same day they made the booking. But over 25,000 people were left waiting more than 14 days and 7,216 people had to wait over a month to see their doctor.

A spokesman for Swindon CCG said: “We recognise many people, particularly those who wish to see a specific GP at a specific date and time, have had to wait longer than we would like.

“The traditional view of primary care – in which all patients were seen by a single GP – has changed, with more and more appointments now being carried out by additional clinical staff, such as pharmacists, nurses and physiotherapists, who are able to offer patients an alternative, and sometimes quicker, route to the support, advice and treatment they need to feel better. 

“However, we fully accept that on some occasions it’s important for patients to discuss their condition with a GP without delay, which is why the Success Clinics at Moredon Medical Centre and the Swindon NHS Health Centre in Islington Street offer same day appointments across seven days for people with urgent conditions, such as urine infections, stomach pain and severe skin conditions.

“In Swindon, there are more than 230,000 patients registered at one of 23 practices, and we are always looking at new ways – such as offering more appointments at evenings and weekends – to ensure that every person is able to access help as and when they need it.”

Patients registered with five GP surgeries have experienced much publicised difficulty booking appointments. The surgeries, which have a management relationship with Manchester-based firm IMH, introduced a new central booking system last year.

Kate Linnegar, Labour’s North Swindon parliamentary candidate, said: “The CCG is responsible so they need to put in place a plan with a clear timeframe for improvements. That’s what the patients need.”

Emma Faramarzi, the Conservative ward councillor for Priory Vale, said: “Things haven’t improved. It’s still difficult for us to get appointments – more than usual.”

She said she had asked the CCG what was the acceptable waiting time for a GP appointment: “They agreed that six weeks is certainly well below what’s acceptable.

 “We understand and appreciate the cost pressures in the NHS. We understand and appreciate there’s a national GP shortage, but these surgeries are operating as businesses. As residents, we have to use them.”

From the NHS Digital figures it is not possible to check the waiting time delays for individual GP practices.

Earlier this month, boss of IMH Dr Martyn Diaper admitted to councillors that the company had  underestimated demand for appointments when it took over the running of back office functions at Taw Hill, Eldene and Phoenix surgeries and the Abbey Meads and Moredon medical centres.

He said: “Our modelling didn’t tell us about unmet demand at the practices and that demand outstripped our modelling when we took over the appointments system.”

The IMH chief executive added: “It’s not been good enough. I’m sorry.”

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told the Mail Online: “Access to GP care mustn’t be dependent on where a patient lives. 

“We have an ageing and growing population, and an increasing number of patients are living with multiple, long-term conditions, meaning that workload in general practice is escalating both in terms of volume and complexity.

“GPs and our teams are delivering more consultations than ever before – across the country we make around a million patient consultations every day – yet over the last two years, GP numbers have fallen, so we have fewer GPs doing more work, and it simply isn’t sustainable. 

“As a result, our patients are waiting too long to secure an appointment, and as this data shows, it is affecting some areas more than others."