GP appointments data reveal exponential rise in demand in pandemic

Practices in parts of England delivered up to 33% more appointments in the three months from September to November 2021 compared with the same period in 2019 - and far more again once COVID-19 jabs are factored in, GPonline analysis shows.

Demand for GP appointments has risen (Photo: mtreasure/Getty Images)

Nearly every CCG area in England saw an increase in total appointments delivered by practices in the three month period from September to November compared with the same period in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Total appointments in the three-month period were up by 10% or more compared with 2019 in over a third of CCG areas, analysis of NHS Digital data by GPonline reveals.

Once COVID-19 jabs are factored in, total appointments over the three month period are up by as much as 60% in some areas compared with 2019 - and by more than 10% in four out of five CCG areas.

GP workload

The figures shed new light on the extent of increased workload that general practice continues to experience as the pandemic heaps extra pressure onto a workforce that was already at its limit.

The 34m total appointments delivered in general practice in November 2021 - including around 4m for COVID-19 jabs - is the highest figure on record for a single month. Compared with November 2019, total appointments were up by close to a third in some CCG areas even before counting COVID-19 jabs - and some areas doubled total appointments once jabs are counted.

Evidence of the massive increase in workload delivered by general practice comes as the workforce remains in decline - with the BMA estimating that there are around 1,700 fewer full-time equivalent GPs now compared with September 2015.

Meanwhile, a patient population that has become older and more complex in that period and a record NHS waiting list of close to 6m people, including more than 300,000 waiting more than a year have contributed to surging demand for appointments in general practice.

Burnout risk

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said earlier this month: 'Workload is escalating while GP numbers are falling. The size of the qualified workforce fell by almost 6% between September 2015 and August 2021 while the number of patients has continued to grow meaning that the ratio of patients to GPs has increased by more than 10%.

'The government must make good on their manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs and 26,000 members of the practice team by 2024, so that GPs and our teams can deliver the safe and appropriate care our patients need.

'We specifically need to see robust plans put in place to keep highly-trained, experienced GPs in the workforce for longer, and that needs to start by tackling "undoable" workload in general practice to stop exhausted GPs burning out and leaving the profession earlier than planned.'

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