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GP practice appointment numbers rising

307 million appointments in past year, data shows

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 07 December 2018

GP practices in England provided 307 million appointments for patients in the past year, reaching a new high, according to new figures published by NHS Digital yesterday.

The Appointments in General Practice, October 2018 report is a new data collection that will be released on a monthly basis from now on to inform the population about GP practice appointments and show how primary care is affected by seasonal variation.

The new figures – available at Clinical Commissioning Group level – are based on data taken from the EMIS and TPP systems and cover 90.1% of practices in England.

NHS Digital said that because these were the first such data extraction, these were experimental statistics and they were comparing findings to previous data collected from the QResearch database of anonymised patient records.

This comparison showed that there were 307.4 million appointments provided by GP practices between November 2017 and October 2018 – a rise from 299.3 million in 2007 and 221.8 million in 2005.

However, not all of the appointments were with GPs. Just over half (52%) of the appointments given between January and October of this year were with GPs, compared with 62% in 2007 and 76% in 2005.

For this year, 45% of appointments were with “other practice staff” (the remaining 3% of appointments were unknown) such as nurses, compared with just 4% in 2007 and 2% in 2005.

Of the appointments taking place between November 2017 and October 2018, the vast majority (82%) were face to face, while 13% were on the telephone, 1% were home visits and the remainder were either via video conference/online or unknown.

This represented a slight reduction of face to face appointments since 2007 (83%) and 2005 (87%).

For the past year’s figures, 43% were same-day appointments; 7% were within one day of a patient making the booking; 20% were within two to seven days; 14% were within eight to 14 days; 7% were within 15 to 21 days; 5% were within 22 to 28 days; and 4% were after more than 28 days.

NHS Digital said these included follow-up appointments possibly made for the future, so they could not be seen as a clear indicator of waiting times.

The report also showed that the vast majority of patients (90%) attended appointments in the past year, with only 5% not attending and 5% unknown.

The British Medical Association’s GP Committee 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 a million appointments a day.

“The largest proportion of these appointments are made and attended on the same day, and the majority of patients are seen within a week of booking – showing that, despite rising demand, that general practice is offering a high quality and timely service to patients within their community.”

Dr Vautrey acknowledged the significant change in recent years in the growing number of consultations carried out over the phone and the welcome trend of growing support from other healthcare staff within the practice.

However, he added: “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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