Practices are continuing to see ever increasing numbers of patients despite the number of fully qualified GPs falling, the latest figures from NHS Digital show.
In December there were 26.8 million appointments – not including Covid vaccinations offered by practices – compared with 25.2 million for the same month in 2021.
More patients were seen face to face – at 68.3% compared with 61% in December 2021 – and 48.1% of appointments were on the same day also up from 45.8% the previous year.
Yet the latest workforce figures published at the same time showed the numbers of full time equivalent fully qualified GPs falling by 472 compared with the year before.
There were 27,375 FTE GPs, excluding trainee doctors, in December, which is a fall of 1.7% from the previous year, the figures show.
Overall, there are now 36,686 FTE GPs when those in training are also taken into account, NHS Digital said.
Yet numbers of admin or non-clinical staff and those involved in direct patient care but who are not GPs or nurses have both increased, the data shows.
Last month saw practice reporting intense pressures from high rates of flu, Covid and other respiratory illnesses as well as higher than usual cases of Strep A.
Beccy Baird, senior fellow at The King’s Fund, said the stats show the high level of demand for general practice appointments more than two thirds of which were face to face.
‘This increasing need for appointments reflects a population that is growing, ageing and living longer, often with complex health needs and multiple conditions, meaning people require more appointments with their GP practice to stay well.’
But she added: ‘Despite the fact GPs are working harder than ever before to deliver these record numbers of appointments, many patients continue to face challenges accessing their GP when they need them.
‘These issues stem from chronic staff shortages and new workforce data released today highlights the significant shortfall in GPs in England.
‘The data does offer some positive news, showing that more new GPs are being trained than ever before, but until they are fully qualified they won’t reduce the current pressures on general practice.’
Despite recent debate about whether reforming the model of general practice would resolve the current crisis, the latest data shows that the ‘core issue’ is very high demand and too few GPs.
‘Addressing this should be a priority for government if ministers want to make it easier for people to see their GP,’ she said.