Figures from NHS Digital show a massive rise in GP appointments in the week beginning 7 September - confirming the trend revealed by GPonline analysis of RCGP surveillance data last week.
The total number of GP appointments recorded for the week beginning 7 September was 5,710,511 - a figure 14% higher than any other week since lockdown began in March, and 15% above the average figure for August.
Face-to-face appointments, meanwhile, rose faster than any other type of appointment - up 23% compared with the average for August. The figures further emphasise why a public warning from NHS England that practices must offer face-to-face access sparked fury in general practice.
GP appointments surge
Despite the surge in demand, almost four in five GP appointments in the week beginning 7 September were delivered within a week of booking, the data show - and the figures include appointments deliberately booked further ahead.
The surge in GP appointments came as schools returned across the UK, with term starting on 1 September for most pupils across the UK.
Daily confirmed cases of COVID-19 have also surged over this period, government figures show - rising from just 1,295 on 1 September to 6,178 on 23 September - a level last seen at the start of May.
Speaking to Sky News, however, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the true daily number of new infections is likely close to 10,000.
He said: 'Yesterday we had a figure that there are over 6,000 people who have tested positive in the previous 24 hours. And that is comparable to the highest levels in the peak in terms of the number of people who were tested positive but back then we estimate through surveys that over 100,000 people a day were catching the disease, but we only found around 6,000 of them through testing.
'Now we estimate that it is under 10,000 people a day getting the disease – that’s too high but it is still much lower than in the peak – and through the mass testing we have … we found yesterday over 6,000 of them.'
Problems with access to testing across the UK have forced doctors in primary and secondary care to stay off work. Mr Hancock revealed this week that GPs would be among groups prioritised for testing while a shortage the government has admitted could take 'weeks' to resolve persists.
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'As these figures clearly show, GP practices are coming under significant pressure with a rapidly rising demand, with concerns related to COVID-19 adding to the expected rise in activity as we move into autumn and with schools returning.
'Of course, this year is like no other as we do all that we can to meet the challenges of the pandemic. Huge numbers of patients have been contacting practices worried that they cannot get tested for possible COVID-19 and, in addition, practices have also faced the need to respond to the significant impact of the huge backlog of care for those whose procedures have been postponed.
'Practice workload will only increase as we head as we head into the winter months with a second wave on the horizon.
'NHS England and the government must recognise that the pressure is continuing to mount on practices across the country. As such, they must be supported in these exceptionally challenging circumstances to ensure that we can keep up with the growing needs of our patients.'