GPs deliver more than 1m appointments a day, official data show

GPs across England delivered a total of 307.4m appointments in the year to 31 October 2018, according to data drawn from practice IT systems across the country.

GP consultation (Photo: iStock.com/SolStock)
GP consultation (Photo: iStock.com/SolStock)

In what is thought to be the most accurate picture to date of appointments delivered by practices in England, the data published by NHS Digital reveal that on average 26m appointments a month took place.

GP leaders said the figures provided clear evidence of the huge workload being delivered by general practice - but warned that the figures were just the 'tip of the iceberg', because they did not reflect much of the evening and weekend work carried out by practices, or the many hours spent on admin.

The data - produced to support NHS work on 'understanding seasonal pressure and supporting winter preparedness within the health system' - reveal a sharp spike in appointments at GP practices through winter months.

GP appointments

October 2018 saw almost 30m appointments, the data show - the highest level recorded in a single month over the 12-month period covered.

The high appointment rate in October is likely to reflect the start of the flu season, as practices invited patients aged over 65 and those in at-risk groups in for vaccinations.

January 2018 and November 2017 - the first month covered by the data - both saw general practice deliver in excess of 28m appointments, reflecting the spike in workload as a flu crisis and the cancellation of thousands of appointments last winter drove up pressure on practices.

Just over half (52%) of appointments were delivered by a GP, while other practice staff delivered 45% and data was not available for around 3% of appointments.

Face-to-face

The vast majority of appointments were face-to-face, with 82% delivered in this way - but 13% of appointments were carried out by telephone. Home visits accounted for around 1% of appointments, with less than 1% online or via video consultation - and 3% were unknown.

Almost half of appointments were booked on the same day, or within one day, the figures show - and most patients are seen within a week.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'This new data will become an important resource, and although only providing a limited snapshot of the total work that GPs and their teams do, it now provides clear evidence of the huge amount they are doing, booking more than 1m appointments a day.'

He said that the fact that many appointments were booked on the same day and that most patients are seen within a week showed that 'despite rising demand, general practice is offering a high quality and timely service to patients'. He pointed out that longer delays in many cases related to patients booking well in advance.

Phone consultations

Dr Vautrey added: 'A significant change in recent years has been the growing number of consultations that are now done by phone, often providing more convenient care for patients who do not then need to travel to the surgery. These figures also show that there is significant support from other healthcare staff within the practice, demonstrating that practices are embracing the skills of other clinicians at a time when many are struggling to recruit sufficient GPs.

'It is important to note that these figures do not account for the vast range of other activities practices complete in their day-to-day work, including admin, training, paperwork and meetings, which add considerably to the workload of GPs and their teams.

'The majority of evening and weekend appointments will also not have been included, as well as some home visits and telephone triage calls, which means this data is only the tip of the iceberg when we begin to look at how hard practices are working to look after their patients, not just as winter approaches, but all year-round.'

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