People are finding it harder to see their family doctor, a new study has found.

Despite "relationship continuity" with a GP leading to better health outcomes, patients are finding it increasingly difficult to see their own GP compared with five years ago, experts have said.

Continuity of care in GP services has been linked to greater patient satisfaction, better health outcomes and fewer hospital admissions.

Yet the decline in "relationship continuity of care" is "marked and widespread", according to a new study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

The authors noted: "Relationship continuity is generally valued both by clinicians and by patients, especially those who are older or who have complex or worrying health problems.

"The benefits of increased relationship continuity include a more holistic approach to care, better recognition of some health problems, better concordance with medication regimens, better uptake of preventive services, and more cost-effective use of healthcare resources, including reduced hospital admission rates."

Researchers from the University of Leicester set out to examine whether people who lived in more deprived parts of England were less likely to have an ongoing relationship with their GP, or "relationship continuity".

But they found that the decline in the doctor-patient bond included all socio-economic backgrounds.

Drawing on data from GP Patient Survey between 2011/12 and 2016/17, concerning 6,243 GP practices across England, the experts concluded that: "Relationship continuity of care declined by 27.5% over the period 2012-2017."

And "deprivation scores did not predict variations in the decline of relationship continuity at practice level".

The authors added: "Greater relationship continuity of care is one mechanism for delivering safe, efficient, and co-ordinated care to increasingly complex patients."

They called for more research to examine the factors behind the decline.

Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt has previously pledged that elderly people over the age of 75 would have a named accountable GP to take lead responsibility for the co-ordination of all services.

Yet experts concluded: "The contractual return to a named doctor has, so far, not led to improved continuity."

They said the situation is "unlikely to improve continuity unless the causes of its decline are found and addressed".