Face-to-face GP appointments and home visits up 50% in a month

Face-to-face GP appointments and home visits have surged by more than 50% in the past month, while telephone consultations remain at their highest point since the pandemic began, analysis by GPonline reveals.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photo: Pete Hill)

GP practices in England delivered  241.7 face-to-face appointments per 10,000 patients in the week beginning 28 September, compared with 156.8 in the final week of August - a 54% increase.

Home visits rose from 4.8 to to 8 per 10,000 patients over the same period - a rise of 67%, according to GPonline analysis of data from the RCGP research and surveillance centre.

Telephone consultations, meanwhile, remain at the highest level seen since the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a nationwide lockdown in March.

GP workload

Including time spent on clinical administrative work, the RCGP surveillance data suggest that GP workload overall is now at its highest point this year, and higher than the same time last year.

The findings come as LMCs launched efforts to push back against damaging claims that practices are not working hard enough, or delivering face-to-face appointments to patients who need them.

An NHS England board paper last week suggested GPs were failing to deliver an 'appropriate level of activity' and its primary care medical director was forced to apologise after an 'offensive' letter prompted negative media coverage about access to face-to-face appointments in general practice and a wave of abuse for practice staff.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'As these figures from the RCGP's research and surveillance centre show, GP practices are open and numbers of face-to-face appointments are increasing week on week.

COVID-19 pandemic

'General practice has been open throughout the COVID pandemic, albeit delivering care differently, and they’ve been working incredibly hard in difficult circumstances to maintain a service for their patients.'

In addition to the 54% rise in face-to-face appointments between weeks 35 and 40 of 2020, comparing the average over the past four weeks with the previous four also reveals a sharp increase. The average number of face-to-face GP appointments in weeks 37-40 of this year was 37% up from the average across the previous four weeks - even after levelling up week 36 to account for a bank holiday.

The 374.2 telephone consultations per 10,000 patients recorded in the week beginning 28 September - week 40 of 2020 - is the highest figure recorded apart from 374.9 in week 37, which followed a bank holiday. Telephone consultations delivered in week 40 were around 8% higher than the average over the past 10 weeks.

Professor Marshall added: 'We know that at the beginning of the pandemic some patients avoided seeing their GP for a number of reasons, including fear of contracting the virus, but now as shown by both NHS Digital and RCGP data appointments are back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, GP workload has been escalating as we care for both COVID and non-COVID patients alongside the expanded flu vaccination programme, all of which points towards a tough winter ahead.

'GPs know that remote consultations will not be suitable for everyone and many patients - and GPs - prefer face-to-face appointments but it's important to remember that COVID remains a threat with infection rates currently rising across the country.

'We need to continue to limit footfall in GP practices as part of infection control measures to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In circumstances where remote consultations may not be appropriate, face-to-face appointment will be facilitated – and these figures show that they have been.'

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