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A very general practice: How much time do GPs spend on issues other than health?

19 May 2015

A very general practice: How much time do GPs spend on issues other than health? [ 0.75 mb] presents recent Citizens Advice research on the level and impact of ‘non health’ demand faced by doctors in general practice (GPs).

Our central finding is that GPs in England spend almost one fifth (19 per cent) of their consultation time on patients’ non-health issues. This translates to an implied cost of nearly £400 million to the health service. 

The results of our polling of GPs carry five key insights:

  • On average, GPs in England report spending 19 per cent of consultation time on non-health matters.
  • Dealing with non-health issues leaves less time for other patients’ healthcare - 80 per cent of GPs report that dealing with non-health queries results in decreased time available to treat other patients’ health issues.

  • The level of non-health demand has increased in the last year: around three-quarters (73 per cent) of GPs report that the proportion of time they spend dealing with non-health issues as part of consultations has increased over the past year.

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  • Personal relationship problems are the biggest reported driver of non-health demand: more than nine out of ten (92 per cent) GPs report that their patients had raised issues about personal relationship problems with them in the last month. This was followed by housing, unemployment/work related issues and welfare benefits with three-quarters (77 per cent, 77 per cent and 75 per cent respectively).

  • Most GPs refer patients to advice provision in the community:More than four in five (84 per cent) of respondent GPs said they refer the patient to an advice agency in the community.

Could a better understanding of non-health demand patients bring to GPs, and new ways of meeting this demand contribute to the £22 billion in efficiency savings the NHS needs to achieve in this Parliament?

We believe this is an important area to explore, and presents opportunities for new ways of working across the front line of the health service.

Notes

The report is based on polling commissioned by Citizens Advice and conducted by ComRes. ComRes to conducted a quantitative survey of GPs in February 2015 through an online omnibus survey of GPs in the UK, which is carried out on a monthly basis. We asked GPs to estimate the amount of time they spend in consultations with patients discussing non-health matters, what these issues are, what change in demand levels the last year, and how this impacts on their work. ComRes interviewed 1,002 GPs in the UK, including 824 in England, online between the 18and 25 February 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of all GPs in the UK by former SHA region.

Cost methodology: The cost of the time GPs spend on discussing non-health demand with patients was calculated by Citizens Advice primarily using figures collated and published by the Personal Social Services Research Unit, covering GP pay, total working hours and working hours spent on direct patient care. A full breakdown is available in the report.

Definition ‘non-health’: The report uses the term 'non-health’ to describe queries which are not principally or specifically about a health problem.