Only one area in England has seen a 79% increase in four-week waits for a GP

8 April 2024
What was claimed

The number of patients waiting more than a month to see a GP has soared by “up to 79%”.

Our verdict

It’s true waits of more than four weeks rose by 79% in one area, out of 106 in total. But across England as a whole, waits of longer than four weeks increased by 38% in 2023.

Last week an article in the Mirror began by claiming that, according to Liberal Democrat figures, the number of patients waiting a month or more to see a GP has “soared by up to 79%” since 2022. It’s true there was a 79% increase in waits of more than four weeks in one out of 106 areas in England—the Vale of York. But the overall increase across England was much lower at 38%, as reported later in the piece.

The Liberal Democrats also shared the headline and first line of the Mirror story on X, formerly Twitter, including the claim that the number of patients waiting more than a month had increased by “up to 79%”.

Some users on social media appeared to interpret the 79% figure as referring to the whole of England, or wrongly conclude that 79% of all patients were waiting more than a month.The Mirror article did go on to explain that only one area had seen a 79% rise and that the average increase was much lower. But in print the front page story did not specify this until the story was continued on page four, while the online version included the caveat eight paragraphs in.

The Liberal Democrat post did not explain the figures further, but did include a link to the full Mirror story in a further post in the thread.

Full Fact has contacted the Liberal Democrats and the Mirror for comment.

Statistics on their own have limitations. The way they are presented is a crucial part of how they are interpreted and understood by the public. If data is presented without context or caveats, it can give an incomplete or misleading picture.

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Where did the figure come from?

The Mirror’s story was based on the Liberal Democrats’ analysis of data from the House of Commons Library, which was itself based on monthly NHS appointments data.

In full, the analysis found that the number of waits of more than four weeks for a GP appointment increased from 12.8 million in 2022 to 17.6 million in 2023 across England, or by 38%. The overall number of GP appointments in England increased by around 6% over the same time period.

The steepest rise in waits of more than four weeks was the 79% increase seen in the Vale of York area, followed by a 74% increase in Bury and a 69% increase in East Leicestershire and Rutland. 

The analysis looked at the 12-month period between December 2022 and December 2023, although more recent data up to February 2024 is now available.

It’s also worth noting the data measures the time between booking and an appointment taking place, and that this includes cases where the patient requested a particular date. As a result it can’t be taken to directly measure “waiting times”.

Image courtesy of National Cancer Institute

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