Two million people may be waiting for up to three weeks to see their GP as surgeries start to buckle under the strain of an ageing population, a survey has found.
Only one in three patients said they could get a same-day appointment with a doctor and an estimated half a million people cannot see their family doctor for up to a month.
The research, carried out by the Daily Mail and over-50s group Saga, found that 20 per cent of people wait a week for a consultation.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has claimed that more than 34 million people will fail to get an appointment with their GP when they need one this year.
The prediction, based on the GP Patient Survey published in December, suggested delays will worsen as government cuts and the effects of an ageing population take hold.
Leading doctors have blamed the struggle on the decline in funding for healthcare in the community and an increase in patient numbers.
Dr Maureen Baker, chairwoman of the RCGP, told the newspaper: “We do worry on patient safety grounds that access is becoming more of a problem.
"Take someone who's had a cough for four or five weeks. The chances are that it's a long-running cough from a viral illness. But what if they've got TB, what if they've got lung cancer?
“It if does turn out to be cancer or TB then the quicker they're dealt with the better.”
The Mail's survey questioned 11,019 adults online over a 10-day period last month and asked them how long they waited the last time they saw a family doctor.
More than one in five, 22 per cent, said they waited longer than a week, and 4 per cent waited two to three weeks.
Researchers extrapolated the proportions to estimate how many people were affected nationwide.
The survey also found that patients felt it harder to book appointments now than five years ago.
GPs now see 340 million patients per year, but the NHS budget for general practice has been cut by £9.1 billion in real terms since 2004, according to the RCGP, and each GP is handling 1,500 more consultations a year than in 2008.
Additional reporting by Press Association