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Half of UK students avoid visiting their GP

ByAndrew Nguyen

Oct 5, 2017

More than half of British university students are avoiding their GP appointments after falling ill according to a report released by UK digital health provider Push Doctor.

Using data from 1000 students collected between June 13 and 15, the report lists inconvenient locations, lack of time, personal anxiety and embarrassment among obstacles preventing students from scheduling GP visits.  Furthermore, students who do manage to schedule meetings with their GP often become frustrated with busy waiting rooms and long appointments.

The report also states that in some cases, students don’t seek healthcare because they don’t want “to feel like a burden on the doctor or the local community.”

In light of waiting room congestion in overwhelmed GP offices, some students do not perceive their illnesses as serious enough to arrange appointments.  One such illness, named for its common occurrence in first-years, is “freshers’ flu.”

Sarisha Goodman, who has only just started at the University of Edinburgh, says she was ill with freshers’ flu for a majority of her first few weeks.  “The first weeks were very busy, getting to know people, the city, and my courses. I didn’t know whether it was something that would go away with time,” Goodman told The Student, who has recently registered with a local GP.

It’s no surprise that students are reluctant to pay a visit to the doctor.  Surveys conducted by the Scottish government found that in 2015 people aged between 16 and 24 largely considered themselves very healthy.  Between time constraints, social factors, and personal uncertainty, students at university face a myriad of factors that also make scheduling appointments with GPs an afterthought.

“In Britain as a culture we don’t have a great attitude when it comes to being ill,” Tom Cardigan told The Student, a post-graduate studying psychology of mental health.  “I think there’s a culture of having to make do, and people tend to only go to the GP if there is a problem.”

For students with mental health issues requiring more attention to diagnose, appointments with overbooked GPs who only see patients in 10 minute blocks can feel especially off-putting.  The University of Edinburgh does provide counselling, but anxiety and depression can still prevent students from scheduling these meetings altogether.

“It is very admirable to see that so many students feel like a burden when they are ill,” says Chief Medical Officer at Push Doctor, Dr. Adam Simon.  “But those same students who are avoiding making appointments with their GPs are not only putting their health at risk but also their studies.”

Scheduling and keeping an appointment can appear daunting as well as was the case for Erin Harper, a second-year student from the U.S. “I’d rather wait [illness] out than schedule an appointment,” Harper told The Student. “I wouldn’t even know how to go about seeing a GP.”

Dedicated to addressing problems of inconvenience in healthcare, Push Doctor is one of many companies like Babylon and Dr Now, making face-to-face appointments with GPs accessible via mobile devices.

In light of the results of this report, the digital health service has also established a student health hub.  “We’re very patient focused and have invested more in customer services team and making sure we have enough doctors on standby,” said a spokesperson for Push Doctor. “Over 5000 students have used Push Doctor in the UK.”


Image: Hamza Butt

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