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GP appointment numbers increased by 7.5% over two years

The total number of GP appointments and telephone consultations have increased 7.5% over the past two years, according to research from The King’s Fund.

This has been driven by patients seeing their GP more often rather than an increase in the patient population, the study concluded.

It comes after official figures showed last month that the GP workforce has been decreasing over the same period.

GP leaders said that this new study is further evidence that GPs are ‘running just to stand still’.

The think-tank’s quarterly monitoring report used data from 202 practices using the SystmOne database from 2014/15 to 2016/17.

It found that the number of telephone consultations had increased by 24% over that time period, and the number of face-to-face appointments increased by 2.8% – totalling a 7.2% increase in overall patient contacts.

This was at a faster rate than the average increase in list size – 6.2% – suggesting that patients are increasing how often they use GP services.

The research comes as official figures from NHS Digital found that the number of GPs has fallen by 542 since NHS England released its GP Forward View in April last year and by 220 since September 2015.

To meet the increasing demand, more nurses, health care assistants, pharmacists and allied health professionals were found to be employed in primary care between 2015 and 2016 – with a 2.8% increase in nurses and 9.4% increase in other healthcare staff, the King’s Fund found.

It said that this wasn’t completely representative as the practices in their sample were from more deprived areas.

However, the authors concluded: ‘The share of activity by different staff groups hasn’t changed significantly in the past three years, with GPs undertaking around three-quarters of the contacts and nurses around a quarter.’

A study last year found that general practice is reaching ‘saturation point’, with patients seeing GPs more frequently and for longer despite decreasing GP numbers.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said: ‘GPs are running faster and faster, almost to stand still and cope with the rising expectations and demand’, citing an increasing number of older patients with complex conditions having to consult their GP more often.

He added: ‘So a patient with diabetes may also have heart disease, may also have lung disease, and all of those conditions need management and now that workload is falling on GPs and their teams.

‘What practices are doing is working harder and harder within their existing resources and their resources are not flowing from secondary care into primary care in the way that the workload is.’

The King’s Fund surveyed 68 GPs and found that only 16% would describe their financial situation as good, with most responding to pressures by changing the skill mix of their team.