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GP workload data needs to be improved to ‘frame expectations’, says think-tank

GP data does not ‘capture total workload’, says report

The quality of GP workload data needs to be improved in order to ‘frame expectations’ on what can by achieved by the service, a leading think-tank has said.

Analysis by the Health Foundation found that issues with ‘scope, quality and detail’ of available GP data meant that true workload was not known.

It cited issues with NHS Digital’s ‘Appointments in General Practice’ dataset, noting that patient appointments are ‘just one part’ of general practice activity, and that NHS Digital’s supporting information states the data ‘captures very little’ other activity, such as administrative work.

The report said: ‘Available data do not capture total workload in general practice, but surveys suggest that staff are exhausted, and many are considering leaving.’

The report, published last month, argued that ‘national policy ambitions’ to improve access to general practice must be ‘based on a detailed understanding [of] how activity is changing and a realistic assessment of the resources available to deliver expanded services’.

And it concluded that ‘[i]mproving general practice activity data would help frame expectations about what can be achieved’.

The news comes as the BMA has criticised NHS Digital’s latest data on GP appointments.

The data, for January, estimated 26.9 million appointments, including 1.2 million Covid vaccinations.

BMA England GPC deputy chair Dr Kieran Sharrock said: ‘Limitations on the data available mean we don’t know enough about activity and workload in general practice. Data about appointments, prescriptions, pathology requests and referrals provide some insight but have constraints.’

Despite this, he said the figures ‘continue to highlight the ever-increasing demand on GPs and their teams, as they continually go above and beyond for their communities’.

It comes as GPs delivered the most appointments ever in 2021, while the BMA warned the pressures are ‘not sustainable’.