ONE in nine patients in Southampton are unable to get a GP appointment when they need one, doctors have warned.

Hundreds of people in the city complained they could not book a slot in official surveys carried out by the department of health.

In total patients were being turned away on tens of thousands of occasions each year, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) warned

It blamed the “growing crisis” on funding cuts to general practice at a time when demand for services is rising sharply.

But GP leaders in Southampton – while admitting funding was “tight” – played down talk of a crisis and insisted improvements were on the way.

They said: “It is important to note that not all patients questioned by the Royal College will have needed an urgent appointment with their doctor.”

The survey tested the opinions of thousands of patients in each clinical commissioning group (CCG) area, over six months last year.

It found that 11 per cent in Southampton – a total of 469 patients, of 4,378 who responded – were unable to “see or speak to someone” at their local surgery.

In Fareham and Gosport, ten per cent of patients could not get an appointment, while in West Hampshire that figure stood at eight per cent.

But the problems were not acute in the Isle of Wight (five per cent), the survey suggested.

The figures exclude patients who said they could get an appointment, having been asked to “call back closer to, or on the day, I wanted”.

Dr Maureen Baker, of the RCGP, said: “The unprecedented decline in funding for healthcare in the community has brought general practice to its knees.

“GPs and practice nurses can’t keep doing more for less. Resources are increasingly being diverted into hospitals.”

But a spokeswoman for Southampton City CCG pointed to improvements in the pipeline, including:

  • Trials of telephone appointments in some city practices to help patients wanting a same-day appointment.
  • Directing patients to the minor injuries unit at the Royal Southampton Hospital, as a “fast alternative to a GP appointment”.
  • Integrated care and support offered by health, social care, housing groups and voluntary organisations in Weston and Woolston – to reduce the need for GP visits.
  • Groups of practices joining together to offer a “more comprehensive and efficient service to their patients”.

The spokeswoman said: “GP practices are facing significant issues with a national shortage of GPs and the growth in demand for the range and opening hours of services.

“We are confident that by employing innovative ways of working and using their  resources more creatively GP practices will be able to meet the challenges and offer an improved service to patients.”