The Guardian: LONDON, England By Andrew Gregory – Despite promise of appointments within 14 days, almost 61m took place after that in 2023, analysis of NHS data shows

More than 5 million patients a month in England are waiting longer than a fortnight for a GP appointment after ministers promised everyone would be able to get one within 14 days.

In September 2022, the government said patients would be able to see a family doctor within two weeks of booking a consultation. Thérèse Coffey, then the health secretary, promised to prioritise the issue with a “laser-like focus”.

But in 2023, almost 61m appointments took place more than two weeks after being requested, according to new figures from a House of Commons library analysis of NHS data.

Between January and December last year, 60,905,102 patients waited more than a fortnight for a GP appointment. The figure represents a 22 percent increase on the 49,862,465 figure for 2022, more than three times the rise in total appointments (6%).

The Liberal Democrats, who commissioned the analysis, said the figures were “unacceptable” and represented damning evidence the government had “brought the NHS to its knees”.

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “Patients are bearing the brunt of this failure with millions forced to wait in pain for weeks just to get a GP appointment. It is an unacceptable situation and one that is only getting worse after years of Conservative chaos and neglect.

“This Conservative government has decimated local health services and brought the NHS to its knees.”

In an election pledge to voters on Friday, the Lib Dems will offer a new right for patients to see a GP within a week, or within 24 hours if in urgent need. They will say this could be achieved by increasing the number of GPs by 8,000, delivering an extra 65m appointments a year.

“The Liberal Democrats would give people a legal right to see a GP in a week or 24-hours if in urgent need, so people aren’t ever left struggling to get an appointment,” Davey said. “This is at the heart of our offer to voters at this election and our plan to fix the health and care crisis.”

In 2023, the analysis found, almost 18m GP appointments involved waits of a month or more. That represents a 38 percent rise on the number of 28-day waits or longer in 2022.

The report analysed the length of time between GP appointments being booked and when they took place. Waits of more than two weeks may include some for which that is appropriate, the House of Commons library suggested. They could reflect patient preference as well as enforced waits.

In the Commons on Thursday, Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, accused Rishi Sunak of having “given up” on the NHS.

“After 14 years of Conservative incompetence, neglect and vandalism the National Health Service has never been in a worse state,” he said.

“[Sunak] has called this election with no plan to cut waiting lists, no plan to end the strikes and no plans to reform the service. The Conservatives have taken the NHS to breaking point, if they are given five more years they will finish the job.”

Responding, Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, raised the performance of the NHS in Labour-run Wales. “[Streeting] talks about the record of the Conservative party,” she said. “We are very proud of it.

“I’m particularly proud of the fact that we have record funding under the government for mental and physical health. But I wonder whether [Streeting] is quite so proud of the record in Wales?”