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.
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."
Jo Webber, Deputy Policy Director of the NHS Confederation, said: "Patients need to be able to access their GP easily, otherwise there is a serious risk they will add to the already considerable pressures faced by A&E departments and 999 services.
"This survey shows more needs to be done to ensure consistent access."
Copyright © Press Association 2011
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I currently work in a GP practice and one of the biggest problems is patients not attending for a booked appointment. In February, the DNAs equated to the surgery wasting a total of 18 clinical sessions for the month and 13 appointments per day. On asking our patient forum for their ideas on how to reduce this, they all said people should be charged if they fail to attend. Patients need to take some responsibility for this and I feel it would be a good start to helping our appointments system and freeing up some appointments" – Lucy, Stafford
"Improving access is always an aim to be instilled in every practice but at the same time, patients should be re-educated in when it is appropriate to come to the doctor. For example, a sore finger that has been troublesome for two weeks is not a suitable reason for an urgent appointment. Patients who do not turn up for appointments should be given stern warnings about
their conduct, and patients should take more responsibility for their own treatment. If we don't reduce the numbers of patients abusing or using the service unneccessarily, access for those who are in real need will be a constant problem" – Name and address withheld