GP Surgeries: Poor Design for Patients With Disabilities

Nicky Broyd

January 09, 2019

One of the largest ever studies to look at GP premises in England hashighlighted a number of problems caused by poor building design.

The report, from the Patients Association, outlines 720 patients' views based on an online survey and focus groups in four areas: Birmingham, Blackpool, Eastleigh and London.

Unsatisfactory Access

Respondents raised a number of concerns about access including:

  • No lifts and narrow corridors

  • Difficulty getting into and around the building using a wheelchair

  • Difficulty accessing the reception desk due to a lack of turning space

  • Limited parking 

  • Having to gain access via the back of buildings because other entrances

  • were unsuitable

 Three quarters of respondents (75%) said there was a ramp at the entrance to their GP practice building but fewer than half (46%) said there was a lift, adding that doctors had to come downstairs to see patients.

Chief Executive of the Patients Association, Rachel Power, said in a news release: "We recommend that all existing and new GP premises should ensure that people with disabilities are able to easily access the building and internal rooms, and that health and safety and disability legislation is always applied."

Lack of Privacy

Patients were also concerned about confidentiality, especially the risk of being overheard at the reception desk with 58% saying there was not enough space to allow for reasonable privacy. Some respondents claimed it was "impossible" to speak to the receptionist without being overheard.

Rachel Power said: "It’s a huge concern that the majority of people completing our survey reported issues relating to privacy and confidentiality at their local surgery – this goes against the law and official NHS guidance, and needs to be addressed."

Dated Waiting Rooms 

The Patients Association said there was a growing body of research to suggest bright, comfortable, well-designed spaces had a positive effect on patients and staff. It was, therefore, worrying that 4 in 10 respondents stated that their GP practice building was a poor environment that made them feel anxious or stressed. 

However, the survey did find that patients had a high tolerance for poorly designed spaces when it came to healthcare, stating that they go to the doctors to get treatment rather than worry about their surroundings.

Rachel Power said: "It’s clear that patients value the NHS and seek high quality care as a first priority when they visit their GP. Funding should primarily go into improving standards of care – and patients agree that this should be the case – but it should not be ignored that many buildings housing general practice are often old and in need of serious investment."


Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "One issue that both GPs and patients have been voicing for some time now, and which is reiterated in this report, is the need to invest in GP premises to ensure they are easily accessible for patients with all sorts of disability and limitations - and this has become increasingly apparent with our growing and ageing population as more and more people live with multiple, chronic conditions and rely on regular visits to their local surgery to receive the care they need.

“Some practices are able to work around or make modest changes to overcome issues with their premises, but often the severe lack of resources across primary care has meant that many are functioning without essential structural improvements that could positively impact patients’ experiences of a practice.

“The same applies to concerns highlighted in the report about patient confidentiality at GP reception desks, which can sometimes become overcrowded due to waiting areas that are too small or have poor acoustics and don’t lend themselves to the privacy that patients expect and deserve."

She says: "It’s essential, particularly as patient demand grows, that these issues are rectified with better investment in general practice; issues that can have almost as much impact on patient care as ensuring surgeries are equipped with the right clinicians, medicines, and follow-up services."


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