Proportion of GP consultations delivered within 24 hours surges 50% in COVID-19 pandemic

The proportion of GP consultations delivered on the day or within 24 hours of booking has soared by around 50% during the COVID-19 pandemic, official data show.

GP telephone appointment (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)
GP telephone appointment (Photo: sturti/Getty Images)

Monthly data from NHS Digital show that in April 2020 - the most recent month for which figures are available - 72.8% of appointments were delivered either on the same day or the day after they were booked.

This compares with just 48.6% in February - the month before lockdown measures were imposed in response to the pandemic - analysis by GPonline shows.

Weekly figures show that in the first three weeks of May, just over 74% of appointments were delivered on the same day or the day after booking - slightly higher than the April figure.

GP appointments data also reveal - to an extent - the huge shift towards remote consultations in general practice. In the first week of March 2020, 80.5% of consultations were delivered face-to-face, with just 14.2% by telephone, according to NHS Digital figures. In the first week of May just 46.6% of appointments were face-to-face and 49% by telephone.

The true shift away from face-to-face consultations is likely to be considerably greater. Data collected by the RCGP shows around one in four appointments are face-to-face, and many GPs - including college chair Professor Martin Marshall - have said their practices have been delivering significantly less than a quarter of appointments face-to-face during the pandemic.

NHS Digital has said that recording of appointments may vary between practices more than usual because of changes adopted rapidly during the pandemic. This is likely to have led to under-reporting of overall appointment numbers and to have produced data that over-represent the proportion of appointments carried out face-to-face.

GP appointments data

The use of 'list appointments, in which several patients are contacted but only one appointment is entered into the appointment book', along with inaccurate counting of online or video consultations are factors NHS Digital says may have affected the accuracy of its GP appointment data during the pandemic.

Despite the sharp rise in the proportion of consultations delivered within 24 hours, the NHS Digital data suggest that the actual number of consultations carried out within 24 hours has remained almost unchanged through the pandemic.

The 10m same-day appointments and 1.5m next-day appointments recorded in April 2020 are similar to the figures for the same month in 2019, when 10.1m same-day and 1.6m next-day appointments were delivered.

The proportion of appointments delivered within 24 hours has risen sharply, however, because of a sharp drop in appointments booked further ahead since lockdown began in mid-March.

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