Patients in North Kent are much less satisfied with their experience of accessing GP services than across England as a whole, two new reports have found.
The Leaders of Greater North Kent, a collective body representing local authorities for Dartford, Gravesham, Maidstone, Medway and Swale together with Kent County Council, recognised the concerns of local people regarding local health services and commissioned a study to understand the local situation. We studied the results of the 2021 and 2022 NHS GP Patient Surveys to understand residents’ experiences of trying to access primary care and are now publishing our reports on both sets of results.
These studies found that on key measures the experience of North Kent patients was appreciably less positive than at either national level or for Kent & Medway as a whole. Whilst results nationally showed a marked decline between 2021 and 2022, that decline was even steeper in North Kent.
Among the issues highlighted in both reports was the difficulties that patients in North Kent had in getting GP appointments compared with the national average. In 2022, only 35per cent of North Kent patients found it easy to get through to their GP practice by phone compared with 53per cent in England; and only 55per cent found their GP practice’s website easy to navigate (67per cent across England). There were also lower satisfaction rates across the board about getting appointments at the times desired, and North Kent patients typically had to wait longer for appointments to happen. Where patients had avoided making an appointment at any time in the last 12 months, more than a third in North Kent said the reason was because they found the process too difficult, compared with just over a quarter of patients nationally. Around one in five North Kent patients described their overall experience of their GP practice as poor compared with one in seven nationally.
Greater North Kent paused publication of the 2021 report, signed off by the Leaders of all six councils, in recognition of the changes happening nationally with the introduction of Integrated Care Systems replacing Clinical Commissioning Groups. But the report was shared with the incoming NHS Kent and Medway Integrated Care Board, in order to open a dialogue and highlight the issues raised. In the same way, the 2022 report has been shared with the Integrated Care Board to help inform that ongoing dialogue.
Help drive improvements that patients need and deserve
In a joint statement, the Leaders of Greater North Kent partner authorities said: “The results from these surveys make sobering reading. As well as the headline findings, they show some disappointing variation in patients’ experiences. For instance, it’s not fair that whilst in some practices in North Kent 99% of patients have found it easy to get through to their GP practice by phone, in others it’s amongst the lowest in the country at only 5per cent. Overall, North Kent patients are less likely to be able to see their preferred GP than in England as a whole, confidence in healthcare professionals seems to be declining, and the gap between well and less well performing practices seems to be widening.
“We know that our healthcare services faced serious challenges both locally and nationally before the pandemic, and those challenges have increased over the past three years. The reports we are publishing today are not an attack on hard-pressed GPs, nor on other staff working in practices or the NHS generally. Our aim is that they will help inform a series of broader conversations that lead to increased support and investment in primary care services in North Kent to benefit our residents and those working in primary care.
“There will of course be places in England where the situation is worse, and access is only one part of the story: the key issue is around patient outcomes. But we make no apology for highlighting the picture these surveys reveal about patients’ experience in North Kent, our determination to see things improve, and our desire to play a constructive role in that process.
“We have spoken with the leaders of the Integrated Care Board, who have made clear that they recognise and understand our concerns and are already taking steps to deliver improvements. Much remains to be done and, as the ICB acknowledges, it needs to be done in partnership. We therefore look forward to working more closely with the ICB, both as Greater North Kent and through partners’ roles in the Integrated Care System, to help drive improvement in primary care services that patients need and deserve.”