Hundreds of thousands of people cannot book GP appointments because none are available, or struggle to get through to their surgery on the phone, according to a new survey.
A poll of 1.93 million people found 21% said it was not easy to get through on the phone to their GP surgery.
Some 265,844 thought it was not very easy, while a further 132,618 said it was “not at all” easy.
Some 38% (732,888) said it was fairly easy and while 31% (596,669) thought it was very easy.
Asked how simple it was to speak to a doctor on the phone, 19% thought it was not at all or not very easy, 25% thought it was very or fairly easy, 44% had not tried and another 12% did not know.
The poll covers GP practices in England and was carried out between January and December 2010 for the Department of Health.
Of the 1.1 million people who had tried to see a doctor fairly quickly in the previous six months, 79% had been able to do so.
But one in five (20% or 221,608) could not, with 83% of those (184,495) saying a reason was there were no appointments available.
Another 15% (32,704) said it was because the times offered did not suit them, while 5% said they could have seen a nurse but wanted to see a doctor (10,329).
Of more than 900,000 people who had tried to book ahead for an appointment, 71% were able to do so but 26% were not.
Of the 1.8 million who were asked about the ease of getting test results on the phone, 35% said it was very or fairly easy, 12% thought it was not very or at all easy, 39% had not tried and 13% did not know.
Health secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Patients rightly have a strong sense of confidence and trust in their GPs, but GPs have not previously had the freedom to respond to patient needs appropriately.
“Instead of government telling GPs what patients want, our modernisation plans will free GPs to make services more responsive to patients.
“GPs will be empowered to ensure patients get the care they need, when they need it, including out of hours care.
“We will also introduce the new, free-to-call, NHS 111 service which will provide easy access to urgent care services, including access to out of hours services.”
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