Two week waiting time for GP appointments not official requirement

22 September 2022
What was claimed

Your doctor must see you in two weeks.

Our verdict

A maximum two week waiting time for patients who need a GP appointment has been set out as an “expectation” by the government, rather than a requirement.

“Your doctor must see you in two weeks”.

Daily Express, 22 September 2022.

“[We are] setting the expectation that everyone who needs a GP appointment can get one within two weeks.”

As part of a policy paper published today on its plans for the NHS in England, titled “Our plan for patients”, the government has said it will “set the expectation that everyone who needs an appointment with their practice within 2 weeks can get one” and “prioritise so patients with urgent needs are seen on the same day.”

However, there appears to have been confusion over whether this two week timeframe is a target, a requirement or just an “expectation”.

For example, a front page headline published in the Daily Express says “Your doctor must see you in two weeks.”

The story goes on to state that “all patients must be given an appointment within two weeks- and urgent cases seen the same day, Therese Coffey has vowed.”

This front page story, which was published today prior to the health secretary’s announcement of the policy in Parliament and before the supporting documentation was published, appears to suggest that the government’s two week waiting time for GP appointments is an official target or requirement.

But this is not the case. In the government’s published paper, as well as in a press release issued prior to the announcement, the two week waiting time is described clearly as an “expectation”, with Dr Coffey also using this word during media appearances this morning and in Parliament.

During an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Coffey was asked about coverage in newspapers suggesting that GP’s “must” give appointments within two weeks, and whether the two week waiting time was “a guarantee, a target or … merely an ambition”. 

Dr Coffey replied: “It’s clearly an expectation that I’m setting out on behalf of patients.” 

Speaking in Parliament following the announcement, Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting noted that the two week waiting time was not a requirement, saying Dr Coffey had “made it clear this morning that it is not a guarantee at all, but merely an expectation.”

The Department for Health and Social Care confirmed to Full Fact that the two week waiting time is an “expectation”.

During her statement in Parliament, Dr Coffey also said the local NHS will be required to “hold practices to account providing support to those practices with the most acute access challenges to improve performance.”

The government also plans to publish data “showing exactly how many appointments each practice in England is delivering and how long people wait between booking an appointment and receiving one.”

Responsibility for the NHS is a devolved matter, so the UK Government is responsible for the running of the health service in England only.

Full Fact contacted the Express for comment.

Image courtesy of Chris McAndrew

Update 28 September 2022

We’ve updated this piece to make clear that the GP appointment waiting time expectation is for England only, as responsibility for the NHS is devolved.

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After we published this fact check, we contacted the Daily Express to request a correction regarding this claim.

The Daily Express is yet to respond. 

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