GP practices in England delivered almost 25,000 more daily appointments in February than the previous month, according to NHS Digital data.
The figures also showed that the daily average last month was 10% higher than in February 2020 just before the Covid-19 pandemic started.
This comes as the GP workforce is under increasing pressure, with the number of fully-qualified GPs having fallen by 7% since 2016.
In response to the new appointments data for February 2023, NHS Confederation director of primary care Ruth Rankine said general practice continues to ‘go above and beyond’ but ‘overworked staff can only do so much’.
The average appointment count on working days last month was 1,365,000, which is 24,545 more than the average working day count in January, and 129,000 more than the same figure in February 2020.
While the number of fully-qualified FTE GPs has decreased by almost 3% since the start of the pandemic from 28,016 in March 2020 to 27,277 as of last month.
Just under 70% of appointments were delivered face to face in February, while 44% took place on the same day they were booked, which is down from 45.3% in January.
Ms Rankine said: ‘The proportion of same day appointments fell very slightly from the previous month, which might be down to patients having less severe complaints as we move out of winter.
‘Whilst this shows that the focus on access in the forthcoming primary care recovery plan is the right one, overworked staff can only do so much.’
The recovery plan, along with the long-awaited workforce plan, are expected to be released in the coming weeks.
NHS England also imposed a new GP contract this month which focused on patient access, including stipulations that GPs offer patients an ‘assessment of need’ on first contact and that they procure cloud-based telephony once their current contract expires.
Ms Rankine said: ‘While investment in digital and telephony systems is welcome, if there aren’t enough clinical staff to see patients, then access will remain a stumbling block.’
While the full details of the GMS contract for 2023/24 are yet to be published, the contract papers for the Network DES were released last week and revealed that PCNs will receive £11,500 every month to improve access.