Think of your GP Appointment like a Train Journey…

One of the things that seems to most irritate patients is the doctor running late.

One of things that most bothers me is that it is usually the patients that make me run late for a variety of reasons but they unfairly blame us doctors for it.

The main thing of all of these reasons that really is infuriating is when the patients turn up late and still expect to be seen; meaning other patients have to wait longer and the whole doctor’s day is lengthened.

So…as my title suggest, here is an analogy that I used a few months back in another context that went down very well and was widely shared…

The Train Journey

You book and pay for a train ticket in advance. It is due to leave the station at 10am. The journey to the train station usually takes 10 minutes.

On the day of the journey, you allow 20 minutes to get there and park as you know there might be issues on the journey or parking and the train won’t wait for you.

If you arrive even just a minute late, you will probably miss the train and you may well have ruined your plans and lost your money.

The GP Appointment

You book a GP appointment in advance. It is booked for 10am. The journey to the surgery usually takes 10 minutes.

On the day of the appointment, you allow just over 10 minutes to get there; after all, the doctor is normally running late anyway so it won’t matter if you’re slightly late. The traffic is unusually heavy and you get delayed en route then find it difficult to park.

You check in 8 minutes after your appointment time. The doctor was running on time before this.

The decision is made that you will need to re-book. You are really annoyed that they can’t see you anyway especially as you find it hard to find time to get in to the surgery and have saved up a few things to discuss. On the other hand, it’s no big deal – you can just come back another time. It’s not like it cost you any money.

Why this analogy?

With the train journey, it seems obvious that you just have to get there on time otherwise you will miss it which usually has quite a significant negative personal impact.

With the GP appointment, it seems the public perception is much more relaxed about what is acceptable. No, I’m not saying people actually intend to get there late as I might have implied in the analogy…

When patients turn up late, the doctor has to decide whether to see them late and make other patients wait longer or see them at the end of surgery in the doctor’s own time; quite an impact on other people through no fault of their own. The other option is re-booking which only inconveniences the person that caused the issue in the first place. What happens tends to vary a little between practices and individual doctors.

If you arrive 10 minutes late, you have actually completely missed your appointment. The ‘train’ has now left and is well and truly way down the line. Generally, most doctors expect you to re-book in this case. Seems reasonable?

If you arrive up to 10 minutes late, in theory, you still have part of your appointment remaining but you can’t realistically expect to use it effectively with only 2 minutes left, based on my example above. The ‘train’ has still left the station and gone without you; you have missed it. Would the train come back for you and set the rest of day off schedule for everybody else? No…. So why should the doctor still be expected to see you?

The point of all this waffle?!

  • The GP appointment system has very tight and regimented timing . Even just one person turning up late can set the whole day off kilter.
  • Remember that you are affecting other people if you arrive late. By all means, ask if you can still be seen, but please don’t be surprised or angry if that is declined.
  • Please respect the service and do your utmost to make sure you arrive in good time. Apart from anything else, this is also basic human courtesy. Personally, I aim to be 10 minutes early for my own appointments. You never know, you might be seen early! (I love seeing the obvious surprised pleasure on patients’ faces when I call them in early!)
  • Bear in mind that, although your appointment is ‘free at the point of service’ and you won’t directly lose money by not using a pre-booked appointment, the NHS will and it also puts more pressure on an already bursting system.
  • Above all, I know we are all human! Sometimes, being late can’t be helped and the ‘human’ side of me knows this! For example, an unexpected delay on the roads, or trying to get a newborn out of the house but they do a massive ‘poonami’ at the last moment!…I’ve been there; I get it!
  • If you know in advance that you will be slightly late, try and phone ahead to let the surgery know. On arrival, an apology for your lateness is hugely appreciated. These two things make a massive difference to how I feel about a patient arriving late and whether I am prepared to still see them or not. Phoning ahead also allows some forward planning such as seeing another patient in the meantime.


I apologise if this seems overly wordy or negative. My goal always is to enlighten people to a different perspective so that service might run better for you; the patients.

Thank you for reading and I hope this analogy helps.

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