The average time a British patient spends with their GP will not match the current length of consultations in Lithuania, Belgium and Portugal until 2086 if trends continue, a new study has found.

With an average appointment time of 9.22 minutes, British patients see their family doctor for less time than patients in the USA, Sweden, Canada, Spain and Japan.

Available data shows the average appointment in the UK has increased by 4.2 seconds a year, according to the study published in BMJ Open.

If current trends continue, by 2086 UK patients would have appointments that are 15 minutes long, they found.

Patients in France already have 16-minute appointments while those in the US have 21.07 minutes of face-to-face time with their GP and Swiss patients are seen for an average of 17 minutes.

Those in Lithuania, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Cyprus and Peru currently have 15-minute consultations.

New analysis, led by experts at Cambridge University, examined data on average consultation length across 67 countries.

They found that patients in 28 countries had longer consultations than British patients.

The authors wrote that a recent survey of GPs, including some from the UK, found that over a third were “dissatisfied” with the time they could spend with each patient.

Their analysis examined 178 studies to determine GP consultation lengths. They found that the average appointment varied from just 48 seconds in Bangladesh to 22.5 minutes in Sweden.

Waiting time
(PA Graphics)

There were 15 countries with appointment times of less than five minutes, 25 countries with a consultation length of five to 9.9 minutes, 11 countries with 10 to 14.9 minutes, 13 countries with a consultation length of 15 to 19.9 minutes and three countries with a consultation length of more than 20 minutes.

The authors raised concerns that patients in 18 countries, covering half the world’s population, spend five minutes or less with their GP.

“Such a short consultation length is likely to adversely affect patient care and the workload and stress of the consulting physician,” they wrote. “A lack of time in the consultation is a key constraint to delivering expert generalist care.”

Commenting on the study, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “The time GPs have to spend with our patients is precious, and the more time we are able to spend with them, the better patient-centred care we are able to provide – so it’s concerning to see that every UK study included in this research shows that we are spending less than 10 minutes on average with our patients during their consultation.

“Increasingly, patients are living with multiple, long-term chronic conditions, both physical and psychological – and at the same time GPs are being asked to do more checks, ask more questions and give more advice as standard during consultations. The standard 10-minute appointment is simply inadequate to deal with this.

“But offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments, and our latest analysis of the independent GP Patient Survey found patients will already be waiting a week or more for an appointment with a GP or practice nurse on 100m occasions by 2020.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, also said 10-minute consultations were “inadequate”.

An NHS England spokeswoman said: “While individual practices manage their appointment schedule, it’s important that GPs have enough time with their patients.

“Working with others, including the Royal College of GPs, our five-year investment plan will significantly expand the workforce, reduce unnecessary paperwork and look at new ways of working to ensure they can do just that.”