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GP appointments in April down by 27% compared with last year

GP locked in

The number of GP appointments in England declined by more than six million in April 2020 compared with the same point in 2019, representing a 27% drop.

New NHS Digital data show that 16.6 million appointments were booked last month – down from 22.8 million in April 2019.

Statistics also show that 63% of GP appointments this April occurred on the same day they were booked.

Overall, 48% of all appointments in April 2020 were via telephone, compared with 28% in the previous month.

It comes as general practice has adapted to a more remote way of working during the coronavirus (Covid-19) emergency and people were told to stay at home under lockdown measures brought in at the end of March.

In March 2020, the number of appointments booked in general practice dropped significantly – by about 30% – between the first and last week as the pandemic began to take hold.

There were 6.03 million appointments at the start of March, compared with 4.23 million by the end.

However, in April, the number of appointments had started to rise slighty by the end of the month.

There was a total of 3.82 million appointments in the first seven days of April, in comparison to 3.92 million during the final week of the month.

Overall, GPs still saw a lower number of appointments booked across the whole of April (15.8 million) compared with March (23.7 million).

The number of practices included in the data set reduced slighly from 95.8% of all practices in England in March 2020, to 94.6% in April, as did the number of patients covered by the statistics.

Patient coverage decreased from 96.5% to 95.4% from March to April respectively, because practices with an appointment rate of less than one appointment per patient per year are currently excluded from publication.

Typically, this results in the exclusion of 20 to 30 practices per month, but rose to 97 practices in April.

But NHS Digital has stressed that this decline does not necessarily imply that GPs are offering and booking fewer appointments overall.

Due to the pandemic, appointments may be recorded in different ways, such as by an increased usage of list appointments, in which several patients are contacted but only one appointment is entered into the appointment book.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall recently predicted that as many as half of GP consultations could move to a remote model once Covid-19 has passed.