GP consultations and clinical admin workload surge beyond pre-pandemic levels

GP practices have delivered a third more clinical administrative work - including prescriptions and referral letters - and 8% more appointments in the past five weeks compared with the same period in 2019, GPonline analysis reveals.

GP workload (Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)
GP workload (Photo: Luis Alvarez/Getty Images)

GP clinical administrative workload - covering prescriptions, referral letters, messages to patients and other tasks - was 34% higher in weeks 16-20 of 2021 compared with the same five-week period in 2019, before the pandemic began.

Consultations by GPs have also outstripped levels seen in 2019 - with 8.4% more in weeks 16-20 of 2021 than over the same period in 2019, anaysis of RCGP data by GPonline reveals.

The true rise in GP workload, however, is significantly larger - because the data gathered by the RCGP Research and Surveillance Centre do not capture work on the COVID-19 vaccination programme, and may underestimate numbers of phone consultations carried out by GP practices.

GP workload

Meanwhile, GPonline reported earlier this year that numbers of GPs per patient had dropped by 10% over the past five years - despite government promises to increase the workforce.

The findings come just days after the BMA met with health and social care secretary Matt Hancock to demand an end to 'micromanagement' of general practice and to raise concerns over extreme workload pressure on the profession.

Over the entire first 20 weeks of 2021, clinical administrative workload for GPs has been 20% higher than in the same period in 2019 - and 58% above the level seen in the first 20 weeks of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

The number of consultations delivered in the first 20 weeks of 2021 is roughly level with the number in 2019, the RCGP data suggest - but the data may not fully capture the rise in telephone consultations because of the way they are recorded in practice IT systems.

Telephone consultations

Telephone consultations recorded in the data have still more than doubled, however, rising by around 150% in the first 20 weeks of 2021 compared with 2019 - while face-to-face consultations roughly halved.

NHS England has said that more than half of GP consultations during the pandemic have been carried out face-to-face - and the RCGP says its own data supports this.

Commenting on GP workload pressure last month, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: 'GPs and our teams are working flat out, delivering record numbers of consultations - almost 13m in the last four weeks. This is in addition to their remarkable contribution to the COVID-19 vaccination programme, with 75% of vaccines currently being delivered in general practice alone.

'GPs and their teams have been working under unsustainable pressures for many years now and we need to make the job of a GP manageable and fulfilling again so that we keep hardworking and dedicated GPs where they want to be - caring for patients.

'This is why we need to see urgent action to address the workload and workforce pressures facing general practice. This includes initiatives in place to retain experienced GPs in the workforce, and prevent them from burning out, and leaving the profession altogether.'

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