One in five people in the UK say fear of wasting doctor’s time would stop them getting tested


Widespread publicity of NHS woes likely contributor to hesitancy over seeking medical attention.

One in five people in the UK (22 per cent) would put off getting health tests for fear of wasting their doctor’s time, new research from Roche Diagnostics has revealed – a barrier that is not reported by the general public in any of the other countries surveyed.

The finding comes after a Roche survey of the public and healthcare professionals in the UK, USA, Germany, Switzerland, India, Taiwan and Thailand showed that this fear of time wasting was unique to people in Britain.

The survey, designed to understand attitudes to diagnostic testing and the barriers to timely diagnosis of illness, also found that nearly half (49 per cent) of those surveyed in the UK said they received no explanation, or an inadequate explanation, on the role of or reason for testing.

This is despite the fact that the UK public demonstrated a high awareness of how valuable diagnostic testing is with just over half (51 per cent) of respondents saying they thought that the most important role of testing was in helping them to avoid more invasive treatments later down the line.

Lynsey Gate, pre-eclampsia patient, said: “When I first started experiencing symptoms like hand swelling, I phoned triage and told them about it and my concerns. I was about to travel, and they said to come in when I got back. But by the time I got home the swelling had gone down so I phoned them again and they agreed I didn’t need to go in to be checked. I felt like I was being a burden and worrying about potentially nothing. I regret it in hindsight because it could have changed things for me had they caught it earlier.”

Rachel Power, Chief Executive of the Patients Association, said: “We would always encourage people who are concerned about their health to seek advice. That doesn’t have to be from your GP – there are other health professionals who can help. None of them will think you’re wasting their time. A conversation with a pharmacist, for example, could put your mind at rest or point you in the direction of another healthcare professional who can support your health.”

NHS pressures

Also unique to the UK, was the finding that more than a quarter of those surveyed cited “cancelled appointments” as a reason for missing a diagnostic test – a further symptom of the challenges the NHS is facing.

However, despite these challenges, trust in healthcare professionals was high among members of the UK public and globally doctors emerged as the most trusted and widely consulted information source for diagnostics. Even in countries where the general public are dissatisfied with the information they are given on diagnostics – such as the UK and Switzerland – they continue to believe that their doctor is their best source of information.

Emergency Medicine Consultant, Professor Rob Galloway said: “I understand when people are bombarded with messages about long waiting lists and how much pressure the NHS is under they might be reluctant to seek medical help. But that’s exactly why you should come forward if you feel something is wrong. The sooner you are diagnosed, the quicker you can be treated and the better your outcome is likely to be.

“Too often in A&E we see patients who have ignored or lived with their symptoms for so long that their condition becomes an emergency – and this might have been avoided if they had come forward sooner. There is no doubt the NHS is currently under a huge amount of pressure and we do want people to use healthcare services wisely. But we definitely don’t want people who are experiencing symptoms to avoid seeking help for fear of wasting our time.”

Improvements to access

The survey also revealed some reasons for optimism. Fewer people cited a fear of catching COVID-19 as a reason to stay away from seeing the doctor, when compared to results from previous years. As well as this, more respondents said they were eager to prioritise testing appointments in their diaries over other commitments when compared to the same question last year.

Roche is always looking for ways to help the NHS improve access to testing and overcome the barriers that exist for some patients and the insights provided by this survey, about how public attitudes to diagnostic testing vary or overlap in different countries, will inform that work.

Geoff Twist, Managing Director of Roche Diagnostics UK and Ireland said: “The enormous pressure the NHS is currently facing has been widely reported so it is not entirely surprising that people in the UK are conscious of not wanting to waste the time of doctors. However, I would urge people not to delay talking to a healthcare professional if they feel something isn’t right.

“The right diagnostic test, done at the right time, can actually help to reduce pressure on the NHS by ruling out serious conditions in some patients and ensuring those who are unwell receive the treatment they need sooner rather than later. In many serious or life-limiting diseases or conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, sepsis and pre-eclampsia, early diagnosis can result in more targeted treatment and fewer healthcare appointments, as well as better quality of life and outcomes for patients.”