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Prompt service is what you expect in a cafeteria — but now those at the top of the NHS want to see instant service in healthcare, too.

The political consensus today is about speed. The focus of all the new drives, especially in general practice, has been for people to see medics faster.

As part of this, surgeries have been merging in a bid to make them more ‘efficient’ — and it’s this that was behind the roll-out last week of the scheme for patients to see a GP over the internet, rather than in person.

Prompt service is what you expect in a cafeteria — but now those at the top of the NHS want to see instant service in healthcare, too

The thinking is that everyone should be seen on the day, and this is where considerable resources have been focused.

Of course, I understand this. We live increasingly frenetic lifestyles and having to wait to see a doctor is frustrating.

But I do wonder if we’re not missing something about the real value of general practice. In our rush for everyone to be seen within five minutes of developing a cough, I think we are failing to really appreciate one of the most important aspects of medicine: the doctor-patient relationship and continuity of care.

There was a fascinating study published this week that illustrated this eloquently.

The political consensus today is about speed. The focus of all the new drives, especially in general practice, has been for people to see medics faster

Researchers found that among older patients, those who were unable to see the same GP were more than twice as likely to end up in hospital compared to those who regularly saw the same one.

It is thought this is because patients have to repeat their medical history, which wastes valuable time and means symptoms of serious illness go undetected.

A few years back, I developed acne and rosacea out of the blue and went to the GP a number of times. Each time I saw a different doctor. Each time they asked the same question and suggested the same things, which I then had to explain I’d already tried.

It was incredibly frustrating, and it struck me that if I, as a fairly articulate doctor, experienced it like this, what must it be like for someone less able or older, without a medical background?