GP appointments surge by 2.7m in first half of 2019/20

GP practices in England delivered 2.7m more appointments in the first six months of 2019/20 compared with the same period last year, official data show.

GP consultation (Photo: Getty Images/sturti)
GP consultation (Photo: Getty Images/sturti)

Practices in England delivered just over 150.4m appointments between April and September 2019 - compared with just under 147.8m over the same period in 2018, GPonline analysis of figures from NHS Digital shows.

The additional 2.65m appointments delivered in general practice in the first half of 2019/20 represent an increase of nearly 2% compared with the previous year - and reflect rising pressure on the profession at a time when the workforce remains in decline.

The total number of patients registered with GP practices in England rose above 60m for the first time in September this year, but general practice lost nearly 600 full-time equivalent, fully-qualified GPs over the past year.

GPs under pressure

A GMC report published earlier this month found that half of GPs felt unable to cope - twice the proportion of all doctors who feel this way. Ahead of this month's RCGP conference in Liverpool, the college's chair elect Professor Martin Marshall said tackling GP workload was his number one priority.

The latest appointments data also show that the proportion of appointments delivered within one week is slipping. In the first six months of 2019/20, 68.1% of appointments were delivered within a week or less, while 31.9% took place more than a week after booking - compared with a split of 69.7% to 30.3% in the same period last year.

However, there are signs that general practice is adapting to rising pressure by adopting new consultation methods and using staff other than GPs to deliver a rising share of appointments.

The number of consultations delivered by practice staff other than GPs between April and September 2019 rose more than twice as fast compared with the same months of the previous year as the number of appointments by GPs.

GP consultations

GPs delivered nearly 3% more appointments in the first half of 2019/20 than in the same period a year earlier - while appointments by other practice staff rose nearly 7%.

The figures show that video or online consultations - although they still account for less than 1% of all appointments - have risen sharply too. There were 28% more appointments delivered in this way in April-September 2019 than in the same six months of 2018.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said in his first speech after taking office earlier this year that he had asked officials to look at ways to drastically reduce waits for GP appointments.

GP leaders have warned this month that a return to maximum waiting times targets for GP appointments would be damaging for the profession and for patients.

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