Patients who can't speak English are given double the appointment time, GPs admit

Doctors are being forced to allow double the time for patients who cannot speak English
Doctors are being forced to allow double the time for patients who cannot speak English Credit: Anthony Devlin

Patients who cannot speak English are given double the appointment time at the GP because it takes so long to translate, doctors have admitted.

In recent years GPs’ surgeries have struggled to keep up with soaring patient numbers, fuelled by immigration, which has seen an extra two million National Insurance registrations since 2011.

Many GP lists are now ‘closed’ and patients complain that they cannot get appointments because of the influx.

Beth Barrett, at GP at Shires Healthcare, Shirebrook, Derbyshire, told Radio 4 Today’s programme that the problem was being exacerbated because many non-English speakers needed double appointments so that translation phone lines could be used.

“Do we favour them? Certainly if they need translation lines then they take longer,” she said.

“I know that staff, if someone comes in wanting an appointment with very very little English they’ll give them a double appointment, because if they don’t, it’s going to take that time anyway.”

The Royal College of GPs also said that it was 'inevitable' that appointments would take longer for people who needed translation services.

The Conservative Party has pledged to cut net immigration to 100,000 a year 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: “GPs will always strive to deliver the best possible care to all of our patients, regardless of their nationality or ability to speak English.

"In some cases this will involve organising a translator, either to sit in on the consultation or speak to the patient via phone, so inevitably this will take longer than the standard 10-minute consultation, and rely on the availability of translators.

“GP practices that serve a population where a lot of patients might not speak English as their first language will take the need for longer appointments and translators into account when planning their services."

Figures released last year showed that on average, practices across England are seeing an extra 80 patients a week, due to immigration and the ageing population.

The study by the University of Oxford based on analysis of more than 100 million GP and nurse sessions at 398 general practices in England, found the number of weekly consultations per practice had risen from 902 in 2007 to 984 in 2014.

In the last seven years, workloads in general practice have increased by 16 per cent, with some practices now approaching 200 consultations a day.

The number of face-to-face GP consultations rose by 6.38 per cent but the greatest increase was telephone consultations which have nearly doubled in the last seven years.  

There is also currently a national deficit of qualified family doctors, and while the NHS earmarked £500,000 to recruit 5,000 extra GPs by 2020, data shows little progress is being made. Leading doctors have warned that general practice is now nearing ‘saturation point.’

In March Oxfordshire became the first area to scrap patients’ rights to a same-day doctor’s appointment for urgent patients under new plans to cope with the shortage of GPs.

Since 2008, the English population has increased by nearly six per cent – soaring from 51.4 million in 2008 to 54.3 million in 2014. A rise largely fuelled by immigration, the ONS estimating net migration will run at 198,000 a year over next 25 years. The Conservative party as pledged to reduce net migration to 100,000 if elected next month.