Letters Why GPs are always running late

Modern complex care needs longer consulting times

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4373 (Published 22 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4373
  1. Peter J O’Donnell, retired GP
  1. Epsom, UK
  1. peter.odonnell{at}live.com

GPs are always running late1 because they think they can deal with patients’ problems in the 10 minute slot allocated to them. They cling to this belief despite years and even decades of experience telling them otherwise.

I struggled to run on time and knew GPs who always finished their surgeries 1-2 hours late. Even if the GP was comfortable with this, their GP partners and patients with later appointments are unlikely to have felt the same. Some loyal patients might put up with this by rationalising that the GP is late because they are willing to give them all the time they need. But for me, running late was only stressful.

I surveyed 100 consecutive patients and found the average number of problems presented was 2.4. I became concerned that practising medicine this way was increasingly risky, not just to the patient presenting but to the patient who might be more seriously ill but can’t get an appointment.

GPs face a dilemma. Modern complex care needs longer consulting times, but this will mean less availability. Perhaps a rushed consultation is better than none.

How many times did I start surgery late because of an urgent matter or prolonged visit only to have a serious or complex patient first? I would then see my carefully scheduled day fall off a cliff.

GPs who persistently run late should recognise this and do what I did—start your surgeries 20-30 minutes early and book a 20-30 minute break in the middle. If running late, you can catch up. If not, you can have a cup of tea and sign some prescriptions.


  • Competing interests: None declared.


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