Over 50s struggling to see their GP

Monday 28 November 2016

  • More than half of over 50s struggle to see their GP on the same day they fall ill
  • More than a quarter find it hard to book a doctors’ appointments in advance
  • One in four people have been tempted to self-diagnose using the internet because it’s easier than visiting a GP

The over 50s, arguably the biggest users of the NHS, are struggling to see their doctor, whether they are trying to book a same day appointment or one in advance, according to research by Saga Health Insurance*

In a poll of more than 10,000 over 50s, half of people say they find it difficult to book an appointment to see their GP the same day they fall ill, while more than a quarter say they struggle to book a doctors’ appointment in advance.

Around four out of ten over 50s think the NHS has got worse over the last year. Perhaps this is because many people are struggling to book doctor’s appointments or are waiting a long time for basic procedures.

The poll shows that while some over 50s got a same day (29%) or next day (19%) appointment the last time they needed to see a doctor, more than a third said they waited between one and two weeks for an appointment. This could be why one in four people say they’ve been tempted to self-diagnose using the internet because they say it’s much easier than visiting their doctor**.

People aged 50 to 59 find it the most difficult to see their doctor, whether they are booking an emergency appointment (61%) or one for a couple of weeks’ time (35%). This age group also found it the most difficult to see their GP last year**. 

The research suggests that there is a postcode lottery when it comes to seeing your doctor quickly. For instance, people living in the East Midlands seem to find it particularly difficult as 56% say they struggle to book same day appointments.

To encourage over 50s to act quickly and seek medical advice, Saga Health Insurance customers can call a 24/7 GP helpline for free. This means customers can call for advice from the comfort of their own home without having to brave the winter weather when they’re feeling unwell. Customers can also get reassurance, a diagnosis or even get a prescription delivered to their house. People can also get referrals to see specialists which can help reduce waiting times and perhaps speed up their recovery process.

Kevin McMullan, head of Saga Health Insurance commented: “Our research shows that around one in six people don’t like to waste their doctor’s time, suggesting many put off a trip to the surgery. However, prevention is always better than cure so it’s really important that people see their doctor quickly and that they make the most of their time with them. Being prepared for the appointment and making a list of questions to ask the doctor will help you get the best advice possible.”

With GPs seeming under pressure to keep appointments short Saga is offering people visiting their doctor the following tips on how to make the most of their appointment:

  1. Make sure you know what you want to get out of the appointment. It will help you be clearer with the doctor and enable you to get straight to the point.
  2. Give the doctor the key facts about your health story. You can always write these down and hand them over to the doctor so you don’t forget anything. Giving the doctor this information will help them make a diagnosis as some symptoms can be related to each other.
  3. Some doctors ask you what you think the problem is. If they do this, always be honest and tell them what you are concerned about. Quite often you’re worrying needlessly but if they know what is on your mind then they can help or reassure you.
  4. Take a notebook with you and write down what the doctor tells you. Although 10 minutes doesn’t seem like a long time you can forget a lot of information during this period.
  5. Don’t just ask questions, ask the right ones. For example ask ‘what’s going to happen from here’, or ‘what are the next stages’. And if your doctor refers you for tests always ask what the tests are for so you understand what is going on.

For more information about visiting your GP and what questions to ask your doctor, visit www.saga.co.uk/visit-GP.


Notes to editors

  • *Populus interviewed 10,863 people aged 50 and over online between 22nd August and 30th August 2016. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. For more information visit www.populus.co.uk
  • **Research carried out by Opinion Matters for Saga between: 17th June 2016 and 20th June 2016 amongst a sample of 2,008 adults aged 18+
  • Infographic available on request


50 to 59 year olds find it the most difficult to see their GP the same day they fall ill (61%) and the most difficult to book appointments in advance (35%)

31% of women find it difficult to book appointments with their GP in advance, compared to 26% of men


Places most difficult to get a doctors’ appointment the same day

Places most difficult to get a doctors’ appointment in advance

East Midlands (56%)

East Midlands (34%)

Wales (34%)

North West (55%)

Scotland (55%)

East Anglia (31%)

North East (54%)

South East (54%)

North West (30%)



Places easiest to get a doctors’ appointment the same day

Places easiest to get a doctors’ appointment in advance

Wales (35%)

Scotland (63%)

South West (34%)

London (60%)

South West (60%)

North East (60%)

West Midlands (33%)

Yorkshire and Humber (33%)

East Anglia (33%)

Yorkshire and Humber (59%)

West Midlands (59%)


About Saga Health Insurance

Saga specialises in understanding the needs of people over 50 and has been providing quality private health insurance for more than 25 years.


The health insurance offers:

  • Comprehensive range of plans at competitive prices
  • Prompt access to private medical treatment
  • Access to a wide choice of UK private hospitals
  • Cancer cover


Taking out a Saga HealthPlan is easy, whether you are new to health insurance or switching from your current insurer.

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