GP appointments top 30m in October as two thirds delivered in person

GP appointments climbed above 30m in October, with practice teams delivering around two-thirds of consultations in person, official statistics show.

GP consultations rising (Photo: Robert Johns/UNP)

GP practices conducted 30.4m routine appointments in October 2021 - 6.3% more than the figure for last month, and the second highest one-month total since at least early 2019.

Of these consultations, 19.5m - or 64% - were carried out in-person, with this figure around 13% greater compared to last month. It is also the highest total for face-to-face appointments since January 2020 - well before pandemic lockdown measures were introduced.

Over 9.4m appointments were delivered by practice teams via telephone last month. Surgeries also carried out 178,593 home visits, the highest number since February 2020 - again before lockdowns were introduced.

GP appointments

Including COVID-19 appointments, GP practices delivered 33.9m consultations in October this year, which was 15% higher than the 29.5m total appointments conducted last month, and the highest total since over 34.6m consultations were delivered this March.

Rising levels of GP activity come as newly elected BMA GP committee chair Dr Farah Jameel acknowledged workload pressures as one of the ‘biggest issues’ facing general practice.

Responding to the latest set of GP appointment data in England, Dr Jameel said: 'These statistics clearly illustrate that GPs and their teams are continuing to do more and more as they strive to look after patients who need them the most.

'Last month practices in England delivered more than 4m more appointments than they did in September, a total of 33.9m in October, and more than 3m more than they did in the same month pre-pandemic in 2019. Meanwhile the number of people being seen face-to-face continues to rise, which underlines how wrong suggestions are that practices are closed and not seeing patients in person.

Workload solutions

'That 3.5m appointments were down to COVID-19 vaccinations is testament to the continuing hard work of GP teams as they play a vital role in tackling the pandemic on the ground through the booster programme.

'What’s not picked up in these statistics though are the reams of other work that GPs and their colleagues do outside of consultations – whether this is following up on referrals, writing letters, assessing test results and managing practices.

'Couple this with the fact we’re continuing to lose GPs – we now have the equivalent of more than 1,700 fewer full-time family doctors than we had in 2015 – and the mounting workload is reaching breaking point. Staff are exhausted and demoralised, and there are simply not enough hours in the day to provide safe, quality care to patients.'

She added: 'General practice prides itself on its relationship with communities, and the continuity of care it provides to local patients. Urgent action is needed to reach solutions that give practices, their hardworking dedicated teams, the space and time to do what they are best at, looking after patients in their time of need.'

General practice crisis

Last week MPs launched an inquiry into the future of general practice following months of intense pressure on GPs over access to face-to-face care, and amid crippling workload pressure driven by soaring demand for appointments and a chronic workforce crisis.

Health and social care committee chair and former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt highlighted that general practice was ‘in crisis’, with its workforce ‘utterly exhausted and demoralised  - and patients increasingly uncertain of what they can expect’.

The GPC voted unanimously last month to reject a £250m winter access fund that will partly fund additional staffing in primary care, but comes with demands for a rise in total appointments and increased face-to-face access.

The union this month conducted an indicative ballot to gauge the profession's willingness to take forms of industrial action over its failure to offer the support general practice needs. But the BMA has said there are 'no immediate plans' to make the results available publicly.

NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard has denied ignoring advice from GPs on how to ease pressure on practices, despite widespread condemnation of its access plan and support package published last month.

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