March saw GPs in England deliver the highest number of patient consultations since records began, NHS Digital has revealed.
GPs themselves delivered 15.1m appointments in March – the most since the current GP appointments dataset began in October 2019.
This compares with the previous high of 14.9m in November 2021 and 12.9m in February this year.
GP practice appointments as a whole – delivered by the whole practice team – also saw a sharp rise compared with the previous month.
In March, practices provided 30.1m appointments including Covid vaccinations, up 17% from 25.7m in February.
However, Covid jabs only rose by 0.1m, meaning the bulk of the increase was made up by other types of appointments.
Excluding Covid vaccinations, practices delivered 29.7m appointments in March, compared with 25.4m in February.
NHS Digital today announced that the experimental statistics now include three new measures:
- Figures on the duration of consultations in minutes
- Further detail on type of appointment, such as whether it involved the patient directly or was clinical activity on their behalf and a breakdown into categories such as routine general consultation, planned clinic or home visit
- More detail on which healthcare professional led the appointment if they were not a GP
However, it warned that the data quality is variable as some of these are recorded differently depending on practices’ system suppliers and said it was working to ‘address’ this.
Responding to today’s publication of both new appointment and GP workforce data, the BMA said the rise in appointments coupled with a continued downward ‘spiral’ in the GP workforce is ‘untenable’ for practices.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA GP committee for England deputy chair, said: ‘Last month appointments in England were up by 4 million – while GP numbers continued to spiral downwards.
‘This is completely untenable for practices, for GPs and for patients.’
He added: ‘This trend of demand rocketing while we haemorrhage doctors is pushing the remaining staff to breaking point as they take on more and more each day, to a point which is not safe for them and certainly not safe for patients.
‘While today’s figures demonstrate practice staff going above and beyond to meet the needs of their patients, working at these unsafe levels is not sustainable and will only drive more GPs away from the profession – leaving more patients without their family doctor.
‘We urgently need the Government and policymakers to listen to the alarm bells being rung by practices around the country, and work with the profession to come to solutions that ease the pressures, turn the tide on the exodus of GPs and enable them to provide safe care that patients deserve.’
It comes as Pulse this week revealed that the average waiting time for a non-urgent, face-to-face appointment is 10 days – quicker than before the Covid pandemic.
And the RCGP chair told GPs at Pulse’s flagship conference in London that the long-standing row over the shift towards remote consulting in GP practices has now ‘settled down’.
Meanwhile, GPs attending the annual conference of UK local medical committees (LMCs) next month will vote on policy to reduce core GP hours to 9am until 5pm.