Millions of employees putting health at risk because of poor access to GPs

Employees are risking their health by delaying or missing GP appointments, with a fifth, some 3.3 million[i] having failed to attend a GP appointment due to work and a third of those admitting that this has worsened their medical problems. These are the key findings of new YouGov research, commissioned by leading digital healthcare company Doctor Care Anywhere, which also reveals that employees want companies to harness a range of options, including tech and web-based services, in order to provide more flexible access to primary healthcare and GP appointments.

Although the majority of employees feel that their companies are broadly supportive of them attending medical appointments, a significant minority do not, revealing an unsupportive workplace culture as one of the main barriers to workers accessing primary healthcare, with a third (33%) of those who have cancelled, missed or postponed an appointment due to work saying that they felt pressure not to take the time off for GP appointments.

The cost to the NHS of 3.3 million missed appointments due to work is estimated at £69 million[ii].

The survey confirmed presenteeism as a widespread issue, with over a third (37%) of respondents admitting that they stayed at their desk despite being so unwell that the quality of their work was affected, contributing to the estimated £15 billion a year of having employees at work but unable to perform to the best of their ability because of poor health.

Survey highlights:
• Risking their health – nearly a fifth or some 3.3million workers[ii] have cancelled, missed or postponed an appointment due to work. 34% have made a health problem worse because of this
• Unsupportive workplace culture – of those who have cancelled, missed or postponed an appointment due to work a third (33%) felt pressure at work not to take time off for GP appointments
• Employer engagement matters – workers with unsupportive employers are twice as likely to have cancelled or missed their GP appointments (23%) as those with very supportive employers (11%)
• Presenteeism is a widespread issue – over a third (37%) of respondents admitted that they stayed at their desk despite being so unwell that it the quality of their work was affected.
• Young most at risk – the under 35 age group is most likely to have missed a GP appointment (19%) and 43% made a health problem worse because of it
• Biggest barriers to access- appointment access and times (59%), not being able to book an appointment easily (21%) with a fifth (20%) of workers having to wait for over a week for an available appointment

Breaking down the barriers to healthcare – what employees want
• Appointment times – access to appointments outside working hours (50%) and ability to book appointments 24 hours a day (49%), were cited as ways to solve the issue, with 82% saying that they would like to be able to see a GP in the early morning, evening or at weekends.
• More flexible access needed – being able to see a GP on the same day as booking an appointment (87%) was specified as one of the most important services to improve access to primary healthcare, while nearly a third (31%) said flexible access to remote appointments over phone and webcam would make it easier for them to see a GP.

Kate Newhouse, CEO of Doctor Care Anywhere, said: “This survey reveals that British employees are facing too many barriers to accessing primary healthcare, which is putting their health unnecessarily at risk and contributing to the widespread issue of presenteeism. Our aim is to help both employers and employees combat this by helping to provide more flexible access, through our virtual GP and related services, to high quality healthcare whenever and wherever it is needed.”

Dr James Kingsland OBE, President of the National Association of Primary Care and Senior Partner in a leading General Practice said: “Absenteeism and presenteeism are costing British businesses and could be meaningfully reduced with better access to the right healthcare regardless of setting. Rather than expecting patients to go to GP surgeries, which takes time out of the working day, we need to adopt new models of care which channel healthcare to the patient in a flexible and timely way, whether at work or remotely. More flexible provision would be better for the patient, better for businesses and ultimately, better for the taxpayer.”

[i] Figures from The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), there are 20,520,000 employees, so 16% of that would be 3,283,200 employees who have ever cancelled, missed or postponed an appointment due to work (calculated by Morgan Rossiter and agreed with YouGov)

[ii] Average cost of GP consultation is £21 in core GP hours. ‘National Audit Office: Stocktake of Access to general practice in England’ November 2015.