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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)

  • Only 1.2%. I am surprised.

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  • I'm sure Mr Hancock will have a nice +ve spin on this and thus make us honoured to work in such a hallowed institution that is the NHS.

    83 days left, not that I'm counting you understand.

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  • Nhsfatcat

    I do wish we’d quote patient numbers when we speak about lack of GPs. Impact would be more

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  • "Thats a real terms increase of 98 %" says Hancock.
    They don't even vaguely try to be honest.

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  • X. I love the spin. You need to fly from medicine and go and work in a think tank or some other highly paid but irrelevant job.

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  • Link to report is -

    Interesting document - one could easily spend all the long gaps in a GP day glancing through it. Many docs will only get as far as the opening definition of a full time GP's workload!!

    "Full-Time Equivalent
    is a standardised measure of the workload of an employed person and allows for the total workforce workload to be expressed in an equivalent number of full-time staff. 1.0 FTE equates to full-time work of 37.5 hours per week, an FTE of 0.5 would equate to 18.75 hours per week."

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  • Perhaps the definition of FTE should state 37.5 hours paid work, and 11-30 hours unpaid work. Might remind our commissioners what they stand to lose once ICPs force us all to become salaried.

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  • Huge rise in GP numbers says DOH showing our policies are starting to bear fruit.

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  • Attenuated seniority finally vanishes end of March.

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