A total of 83% of patients responding to the annual survey reported their experience of general practice was good overall – the highest figure reported since 83.8% in 2018.
The latest figures – collected between January and March 2021 as the NHS faced huge pressure from COVID-19 – show a sharp rise in the proportion of patients who rated their experience of general practice as ‘very good’.
A total of 48.2% of respondents rated their overall experience of their GP practice as ‘very good’, up almost five percentage points from 43.6% the previous year and well above the level recorded in any of the past three years.
A further 34.7% of patients rated their overall experience as ‘fairly good’, while 10.4% said it was ‘neither good nor poor’. A total of 4.3% of respondents said their experience was ‘fairly poor’, and 2.4% said it was ‘very poor’ – down from 7% overall reporting a poor experience in 2020.
The figures come after a year in which general practice has faced intense criticism over access to face-to-face appointments as more appointments were delivered remotely in line with NHS England advice to adopt ‘total triage’ and deliver appointments via telephone or online where possible.
The BMA’s GP committee delivered a vote of no confidence in NHS England’s leadership last month after officials called for practices to offer face-to-face appointments to all patients who wanted them – warning that the demand had fuelled a narrative in parts of the media that general practice had been ‘closed’ during the pandemic despite practices delivering high numbers of appointments, half of which have been face-to-face, in addition to tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Evidence of a rise in patient satisfaction comes despite GP practices reporting widespread abuse from patients during the pandemic, with polls revealing that three quarters of primary care staff have faced verbal abuse linked to the COVID-19 vaccination programme and more than half have experienced threats of physical assault or had their premises defaced or damaged.
The patient survey found that a substantial proportion of patients avoided making GP appointments in the past year because they were concerned about catching COVID-19 (17.3%), or because they were concerned about adding to the burden on the health service (19.8%).
The survey also found that 67.6% of patients found it very easy or fairly easy to get through to their practice on the phone – up 2.4 percentage points compared with the previous year. This is the first rise seen on this measure in the past decade after a steady decline from a high of 80.8% in 2012.
Meanwhile, 67% of patients said they were satisfied with GP appointment times available to them – the highest figure reported in the past four years.
A total of 48.6% of patients reported appointments booked with their GP practice took place on the same day or the next day – again the highest figure recorded in the past four years.
GP and senior clinical advisor at the NHS Confederation Dr Graham Jackson said: ‘This has been the most difficult year many people across the NHS have faced and, in the context of how hard primary care staff have been working, this increase in overall patient satisfaction as well as several other key metrics is very positive.
‘We have also seen both appointments and referrals going up, all while primary care plays a vital role in the vaccination programme.
‘It is concerning to see 42% of respondents avoided making an appointment. We know that colleagues in primary care are working hard to address the backlog so that those who stayed away can be prioritised based on need.
‘On behalf of our members, we have recently been working with national patient bodies to discuss the challenges they face in providing care to everyone who comes forward and potential solutions. We know more must be done to streamline access and help patients navigate the system to access the most appropriate care.’