THE number of patients seeking appointments to see their GP is at a high, despite fears people are embarrassed to see their doctors.

Researchers, who surveyed nearly 20,000 adults in six high-income countries, said they found embarrassment often stopped Britons visiting the doctor.

The researchers from King’s College London and University College London, with help from Cancer Research UK and Ipsos Mori, found one in six of the men and women aged 50 and over surveyed in the UK were embarrassed about sharing their symptoms with a doctor.

Swindon doctor Peter Swinyard, the senior partner at Phoenix Surgery in Toothill, said he had seen an increase in patients coming to the surgery for the time of year.

He blamed the internet, which many people search for advice and information, for blowing things out of proportion.

He said: “It is a difficult situation, the pressure on general practice is severe everywhere and the number of people seeking appointments to see their doctor in Swindon is at a higher level than usual for this time of year.

“Having said that, it is very hard for our patients to sort out what is trivial and what is important – and I don’t think Dr Google is much help, as he tends to catastrophise.

“I don’t mind at all when people bring their concerns to me – ‘just a bit of a cough, doc’ is how lung cancers may first present and ‘a bit more bloated than usual’ could be something more than irritable bowel.

“Of course, how ever hard you try with patients, you will occasionally miss the first presentation of the first tiny symptoms of a disease.

“But the strength of the list-based general practice system in which people have their own doctor who knows them over a period of time is that we are better at spotting things which are out of pattern and therefore more likely to be significant in context than in isolation.”

Experts, including lead researcher Dr Lindsay Forbes, said the UK's stiff upper lip culture may explain why it lags behind other countries when it comes to beating cancer.

“UK people really stood out in our study,” she said. “As a nation we are much more likely to say we are embarrassed about going to the doctor or we are worried that we will take up a doctor’s time.

“We don’t know why British people feel like that. It may be that we are more stoic and have a war-time mentality.

“We know that older people in particular can get a symptom and then wait for weeks or months before going to see their doctor.”