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The waiting game

GP appointment numbers decline by close to 30%, official data suggest

GP appointments were on the decline in March as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, according to official data.

In England, the reduction over the course of the month was close to one-third, NHS Digital data suggested.

It comes as NHS England's primary care lead said she was 'really worried' for patients who do not have Covid who are currently staying away from GP practices. 

report from NHS Digital said: 'The total number of appointments recorded in GP practice systems has declined throughout March, from 6,026,140 in the first seven days of the month to 4,225,502 in the last seven days – a reduction of almost 30%.'

The NHS Digital report said: 'The outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to unprecedented changes in the work and behaviour of general practices and subsequently the GP appointments data within this publication.'

It added the caveat that because the 'variation in approach to appointment management between practices is likely to be greater than usual' data quality would have been 'impacted'. 

NHS Digital also said it was 'important to note that this decline does not necessarily imply that GPs are offering and booking fewer appointments overall'.

The report said: 'Practices are likely to be operating very differently in response to the pandemic and consequently may be recording appointments in different ways. One such change could be an increase in the use of list appointments, in which several patients are contacted but only one appointment is entered into the appointment book.

'Appointments conducted online or via video may also not be routinely captured in appointment books, so a move to these types of appointments could explain some of the observed dip in appointment numbers.'

Speaking in a webinar for GPs yesterday evening, NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikita Kanani said: 'I'm really worried about people who don't have Covid and how they are not accessing care in the way that they would have done pre-Covid.

'You will have seen it yourself in your practices and in your local systems, but for particular conditions and particularly for our children, or our patients with worrisome symptoms suggestive of cancer, they're not coming in.'

Dr Kanani said NHS England has 'done some polling' looking into why, finding that it is 'for a mixture of reasons'.

'They don't want to be a burden on general practice, they don't want to risk an infection or infecting somebody else - and we need to reassure the public that it's okay to get in touch again and to ask us for help,' Dr Kanani said.

It comes as research from University College London (UCL) and DATA-CAN, published earlier this week, suggested that cancer deaths in England may increase by at least 20% as a result of the Covid-19 emergency.

Readers' comments (7)

  • its not like that this week, numbers of consults back to normal. mostly phone calls, done a few 2ww. business as normal but without the admin nonsense. less stressed, going home on time. had a lunch break. real novel stuff.

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  • Usual moronic statistics. Just measuring the stuff they can count. These telephone appts are sometimes complex and extended. Perhaps they think that the care homes are less busy now they have so many empty beds?

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  • Can we predictions for 6/52 hence when that e-mail suggests virtually back to normal!

    Only 12/52 worth of “on-hold” stuff to sort plus the on-going!

    I’m planning some sick leave soon, guess why?

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  • I find telephone appointments actually take longer than the previous face to face ten minutes. Patients seem reluctant to finish in the slot available and keep asking about different problems. It is harder to reassure and disengage over the phone.

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  • That’s possibly because a significant number of consultations didn’t require a GP anyway, but in a free at the point of use service in normal times people would book for even those self limiting problems.

    Our focus should be on managing those who really are ill and detection of early problems where possible. A decline in consults isn’t necesssarily a marker that all serious things are being missed.

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  • Isn't it because about 30% of GPs have been off sick or self-isolating because someone let a fatal virus into the country instead of quarantining the borders!

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  • Dead statistics. The 30% drop were the time wasters now on Netflix. The system should be applauding a fall of waste, use of pharmacists (like most intelligent European countries), fewer gimmicky reassurance consultations and defensive needless referrals. Instead it wants, more and more access, and more until it clogs, bursts and vomits all over it's workforce. Paradoxically shafted.

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