GP appointments hit record high as practices face 'unprecedented winter'

GP practices delivered a record 30.8m appointments in October 2019 - by far the highest figure recorded in a single month since NHS Digital began collecting data 18 months ago.

Consulting room (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)
Consulting room (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

The total of 30.8m appointments delivered in general practice in October 2019 is more than 1m higher than the figure for the same month last year, figures from NHS Digital reveal. The rise means that practices delivered 3.5% more appointments this October than last.

The statistics confirm a worrying rise in GP workloads, with NHS statistics showing last month that GP appointments had surged by 2.7m in the first half of 2019/20, up from 147.8m between April and September 2018 to 150.4m during the same period a year later.

Falling numbers of full-time equivalent (FTE) fully-qualified GPs mean the workforce available to deal with this rising demand is dwindling. GPonline reported earlier today that FTE fully-qualified GPs in England dropped by 339 over the past year.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Last month saw practices delivering the highest number of appointments since this data was recorded, with GPs and their teams seeing on average around 1m patients a day in England.

'Ahead of what is traditionally the busiest time of year for the NHS as a whole, general practice looks set for an unprecedented winter in terms of demand.'

The GPC chair paid tribute to the 'diligence and commitment of GPs and colleagues' that allows a high proportion of patients to be seen quickly within general practice - with nearly half seen within a day and around two thirds within a week of booking an appointment.

GP workload

But analysis of the latest figures show that in October 2019 as total appointments soared, 65.7% of patients were seen within a week of booking - the lowest figure recorded in the 18-month period from May 2018.

Dr Vautrey added: ‘While longer waits are often due to proper planning for long-term care, practices share the frustration of patients when they are unable to always offer appointments sooner.

‘This comes on the backdrop of falling GP numbers and the long-term picture is damning, with hundreds fewer full-time equivalent, fully-qualified family doctors than we had this time last year. GP partner numbers are falling at an even faster rate, owing to the additional stresses of owning and running practices.'

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