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GP and Hospital Assessment Waiting Times

GP waiting times

Many patients struggle to book a GP appointment in England. Once people have been successful in getting a booking to see their doctor, however, how long are they having to wait for their appointment?

A waiting time is the time it takes for a patient to receive treatment after being referred to hospital.

The length of time a patient will wait depends on:

  • the nature of their condition
  • the complexity of the condition
  • how easy the condition is to diagnose

Waiting times standards

Waiting time standards set out the amount of time a patient will wait at each stage from referral to treatment.

The current waiting times standards for acute hospital care (including hip, knee or cataract removal surgery) are:

  • 6 weeks for the 8 key diagnostic tests and investigations
  • 12 weeks for new outpatient appointments
  • 12 week treatment time guarantee
  • 18 weeks for an outpatient appointment, diagnostic tests (if required) and treatment (if appropriate)

The eight key diagnostic tests are upper endoscopy, lower endoscopy (excl. colonoscopy), colonoscopy, cystoscopy, CT scan, MRI scan, barium studies and non-obstetric ultrasound.

Many patients struggle to book appointments at GP practices in England, and NHS England have rightly made it a priority to tackle the “8am rush for GP appointments” in their recently published delivery plan for recovering access to primary care. Waiting for appointments has become a big source of concern for the British public. One of the main reasons that people are dissatisfied with health services is waiting times for GP and hospital appointments, as the results of the most recent British Social Attitudes survey show. 

Most patients will have conditions that are simple to diagnose. Most need only one diagnostic test, if any at all.

Some treatments and services are not covered by the 18 week Referral to Treatment Standard. This includes:

  • fertility treatment
  • obstetrics services (the care of pregnant mothers and their babies before and after the birth)
  • organ and tissue transplantation
  • direct referrals to Allied Health Professionals (AHPs)
  • dental treatment provided by undergraduate dental students
  • direct access referrals to diagnostic services
  • mental health services

We know there are patients who try to book a GP appointment and cannot get through. While policy-makers are working hard to tackle those problems for those who are unable to get through to book an appointment at their GP practice, there is a separate question about how long people who are able to book an appointment then wait to be seen.

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