Young Britons are turning their backs on GP surgeries. Increasing numbers of 18-to 34-year-olds go straight to overstretched A&E departments because they cannot get suitable appointments with their family doctor. It seems that health services are failing to match modern lifestyles.
A report by Citizens Advice Bureau finds that people aged 18 to 34 are far less likely than older people to be able to see a GP when they need to. Instead, they are more than twice as likely to attend A&E departments or walk-in centres as those aged 55 and over.
Despite successive governments’ promises to make GP services more accessible, the NHS still fails to cater for a working population wanting family doctors to be available at times to suit busy working lives. Young adults were more than twice as likely to be unable to secure a GP appointment at a convenient time than older people. 14% of 18-34-year-olds could not see a GP the last time they tried to make an appointment, compared with 6% aged 55 or over. One in eight (13%) of younger adults did not get any professional help for a health problem after failing to see their GP.
Also, levels of satisfaction and trust in the GP service were dramatically lower amongst young people than amongst pensioners. 30% of young adult respondents said their experience of GPs was “very good”, compared with 64% of those over 75.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said failure to treat younger people outside hospital would add to the financial pressures on the NHS. “GP services need to keep up with 21st-century lifestyles. With many younger adults out at work, it can be difficult for them to get an appointment with a GP, particularly at a convenient time. As a result, some people are struggling to access the medical advice they need.
“It is in the NHS’s interest to get primary healthcare for younger adults right and ensure services fit around busy working lives. A failure to meet their needs piles more pressure on budgets,” Guy said.
Citizens Advice found that young people often prefer to use walk-in centres instead of GPs, but nearly a quarter of these seven-day-a-week, 24-hour centres had closed since 2010.
Sitting for hours in the early morning with the phone on redial doesn’t suit young people with busy lives. It’s easier to call into hospital out of office hours if they feel ill. Sadly, too many young people give up and do not seek professional help at all. When their health deteriorates, it adds further pressure to NHS budgets.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We’re giving the NHS £150m to develop new ways of improving GP access for millions of people, including 8am to 8pm appointments seven days a week, as well as email and Skype consultations. Next month commuters will also be able to register at a surgery near work.”
The data from this research will inflame the fraught debate over the future of the NHS: a key issue in this year’s general election campaign.
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