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Highest number of appointments ever as GP numbers continue to fall

The number of GP appointments in England has risen to an estimated 30.8m in October - the highest ever recorded in a single month – according to official data.

At the same time, the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs in the country has dropped by 339 in the past year.

The BMA said the figures show that general practice is set for an 'unprecedented' winter in terms of demand and supply.

The latest statistics from NHS Digital show that in October, practices in England delivered a total of 29.7m appointments (and an estimated 30.8m), 17% higher than the previous month.

Meanwhile an increasing proportion of patients are waiting two weeks or more for an appointment.

A total of 19.6% of all GP appointments had a waiting time of two weeks or more in October – 1.9 percentage points higher than the same time last year, when it was 17.7%.

This also represents an increase from the previous month. More than 5.8m appointments took two weeks or more from booking to being seen in October 2019, compared with around 4.7m appointments (18.6% of the total) in September.

Meanwhile, a smaller proportion of patient appointments are taking place on the same day they are booked.

A total of 39% of all appointments made in October were for the same day (around 11.6m) – 1.2 percentage points lower than 12 months previously (11.2m).

In addition, the number of fully qualified full-time equivalent GPs in England has dropped by 339 since last year.

In September 2019, there were 28,315 full-time equivalent GPs (excluding registrars), 1.2% lower than September 2018, when there were 28,654.

There has been a decrease of 1,088 fully-qualified FTE GPs since September 2015, when former health secretary Jeremy Hunt made his pledge to increase GP numbers by 5,000.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said he would increase the number of GPs by 6,000 - including trainees - by 2023/24 if the Conservatives are elected.

The figures also show:

  • The number of FTE GP partners also decreased to 18,303 – a 5% drop from last year.
  • In the last quarter, the number of FTE GP registrars has increased to 6,547, up 690 since June.
  • The headcount of all GPs has increased by 2.8% in a year – from 44,378 to 45,625.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Last month saw practices delivering the highest number of appointments since this data was recorded, with GPs and their teams seeing on average around a million patients a day in England.

‘Ahead of what is traditionally the busiest time of year for the NHS as a whole, general practice looks set for an unprecedented winter in terms of demand.

‘This comes on the backdrop of falling GP numbers and the long-term picture is damning, with hundreds fewer full-time equivalent, fully-qualified family doctors than we had this time last year. GP partner numbers are falling at an even faster rate, owing to the additional stresses of owning and running practices.’

He added: ‘Recent weeks have seen pledges from politicians about increasing GP numbers, but given that we’ve lost 1,000 GPs since we were promised 5,000 more back in 2015, much more needs to be done to make this happen.’

The upcoming final People Plan is due to outline NHS England's workforce strategy for primary care, but currently has no set date for publication.

Meanwhile, other political parties have included pledges to increase the GP workforce, if they are elected in the upcoming general election.

Labour promised to train an extra 1,500 GPs a year, in addition to £2.5 billion to 'overhaul' primary care premises.

The Lib Dems pledged to end the GP shortfall by 2024/25 by maintaining freedom of movement by remaining in the EU and training more GPs.

Readers' comments (25)

  • I note elsewhere that there was a 6.2% increase in managers in the NHS. Of course NHS managers are part of the problem along with NICE, NHSEngland ( or any organisation that carries that badge of abysmal quality: NHS)CQC, GMC etc.
    The NHS is driving independent contractor GP, most of whom have not accepted NHS badging, to the same abyss as the NHS.

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  • More colouring books needed.

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  • We need to be more positive. There is a 2.8% increase in total GPs (although not full time). This is good news we can be positive about! We are a profession which enables parents to work and spend time with their children. This is a sustainable workforce, who are happier and more rested. We should be seeking to increase our net numbers, not the hours per GP.

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  • Part-timers may be ok doing blood pressure checks and urti triage, but personally I want to be looked after by someone with a bit more clinical experience than you get from two days a week, and whose mind is on the job rather than the school run and the supermarket wish list.

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  • It may be too late but surely time for CQC QOF CCGS PCNS, Revalidation, etc. to be abolished, and seniority restored. On top of a critical situation this loss of experienced GPs is a disaster. The quality of primary care is appalling now and bound to get worse, with noctors missing serious diagnoses, overprescribing and over investigation and punters being refused appointments.

    And If registrars count as Part of the workforce why don’t practices have to pay them?

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  • Took Early Retirement

    It was predicted by some of us c 10 years ago.

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  • 37.5 hours full time is delusional,this is nearly just over a half time GP.They will miss us when we are gone.

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  • NO problem. I have a solution in keeping with the government's.
    1)More regulation to improve standards and take more time out of GPs seeing patients.
    2)More managers to generate more coloured alerts and bureacracy and put road blocks in place.
    3)Make them pay more tax so they get poorer working.
    4)More enforcement of gross negligence manslaughter charges, staffing is not taken into account.
    5)Remove seniority.
    6)More appraisals.
    7)Make them more for more useless PCN meetings to see how they can help deal with the patients that need to be seen.
    8)Send more clinicians to do other jobs in the CCG, GMC, CQC.....anything but seeing patients.
    9)Finally more IT so they can deal with the reliable, really fast internet.www.(world wide wait)

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  • they won't miss us when we are gone cause they don't care - they have access to private medical insurance and they think we have too much money anyway. 339 is equivalent to approx 610,000 patients without a FTE GP, nearly the whole population of oxfordshire. so that's a whole county losing all its practice GPs in a year. Perhaps we ought to ask Sir david to come and help us before we become extinct.

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  • Stelvio. That is very rude.
    In my experience, part time workers often do the same amount of work in less time. The work more intensely and get paid less. Yes, they are not on the ground at all hours but that does not equate with being lesser when they are there.

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