Time pressures means GPs aren't tackling key health issues

Article date: 15 November 2010

  • 41% of GPs avoid raising sensitive issues such as obesity.
  • Conversely, many patients lack the basic knowledge to address health and lifestyle issues.
  • Time pressure exacerbates the situation: nine out of 10 GPs would like to spend more time per appointment.

A very British sense of reserve amongst GPs means that they may avoid bringing up sensitive issues with patients for fear of upsetting them, new research from Aviva shows. According to information from the latest Health of the Workplace study, personal hygiene issues top the list, with more than half (59%) of GPs unprepared to raise this with their patients, but evidence suggests more serious conditions such as smoking (13%), alcohol misuse (19%) and obesity (47%) are being swept under the carpet too1.

Given all the recent debate over financing of public health and the strain placed on the public purse due to current lifestyles, it is worrying that over two in five (42%) GPs have avoided advising a patient that they are obese. This number rises further still when it relates to the weight of a patient’s child – almost half (47%) would keep quiet in these circumstances.

The situation is compounded by the fact patients also frequently fail to raise issues with their GP, with almost half (43%) never discussing any general health concerns with their doctor, including fear of obesity2. Combined, these factors create a worrying trend that could exacerbate the UK’s health issues. 

To make matters worse, many patients also show an alarming lack of knowledge of some basic health indicators. Although over half of those surveyed knew their weight, the vast majority of the remaining sample (41%) only had a vague idea. With two thirds (68%) of those questioned unaware of their blood pressure level and 22% having no idea of what constitutes a healthy BMI, weight-related health issues could go undetected unless a doctor steps in.   

Dr Doug Wright, principal clinical consultant at Aviva UK Health, said: “Although it can be difficult to raise personal issues about weight or lifestyle, allowing them to remain unchecked can be costly in the long run. GPs are tremendously busy and under pressure to deal with high numbers of patients and a growing administrative workload. It’s therefore important that individuals continue to be encouraged to take more control of their own health.”

“Opening channels of communication between doctors and patients and fostering greater healthcare awareness among the population as a whole requires a major shift in attitude. Whilst this can be delivered through primary care facilities such as GP surgeries, there is real opportunity for other stakeholders to support this wellness agenda. For example, Aviva has developed several online tools such as a BMI calculator and MyHealthCounts to help our customers better manage their health. However, continued collaboration between the Government, the health service and key industry leaders is essential if we are to  truly address the ongoing public health issues.”

Earlier this year, Aviva’s Health of the Workplace research also revealed that more than half (58%) of individuals claim a lack of time prevents them from raising more general health concerns with their doctor. Sadly, pressure for GPs to stick to tight appointment times can be seen to reinforce this idea. The current NHS standard mean that appointment times are kept to 10 minutes, with GPs spending an average of seven minutes per patient.

Nearly all GPs questioned (97%) say they would like to spend more time with each patient, with nearly seven in 10 (69%) stating they’d like 15 minutes, and nearly a quarter (24%) wanting 16 minutes or more. Over half (57%) say they have less time to see patients than five years ago and 63% claim to feel rushed when dealing with appointments.

Designed by medical experts and available to all Aviva health insurance customers, MyHealthCounts is an innovative health management service that encourages individuals to take pro-active steps to improve their lifestyle and rewards them with up to 15% discount off their renewal premium for positive impact their efforts have on their health. 

Containing a wealth of invaluable information including a health assessment tool, nutritional information and an online coach, individuals are offered personalised advice on the steps they can take to improve their health and help reduce their risk of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.


For further information, please contact:

Amber Chable, Aviva Press Office:   
Telephone: 02380 359383           
E-mails: amber.chable@aviva.co.uk

Notes to editors:

1 All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from PoLLAB Research. Total sample size was 200 employers, 200 GPs and 1,000 employees. Fieldwork was undertaken in April 2010. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted.

2 Aviva UK Health used Survey Monkey to question 179 individuals on 10 October 2010. The survey was carried out online

About Health of the Workplace

Now in its fourth year, Health of the Workplace is an annual study that canvasses GP, employer and employee opinion on topical issues. The report’s goal is to uncover important issues relating to health in the workplace, understand current debates and suggest solutions which will help both employers and employees.

This year, our research with GPs explores how their role has changed over recent years and  highlights the issues they face. The findings provide an insightful view into the challenges faced by GPs and highlight the importance of the Government putting an increased focus on primary care.

  • Aviva is the world’s sixth largest* insurance group, serving 53 million customers across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific
  • Aviva's main business activities are long-term savings, fund management and general insurance, with worldwide total sales of £45.1 billion and funds under management of £379 billion at 31 December 2009 
  • We are the largest insurance services provider in the UK and one of the leading providers of life and pensions products in Europe  
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* based on gross worldwide premiums at 31 December 2009


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