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NHS England to collect GP appointment data through winter

NHS Digital will collect appointment data from every GP surgery in the country for the first time from November, as part of new plans to monitor primary care capacity.

Under the draft plans, titled ‘General Practice Appointments Data Collection in Support of Winter Pressures’, NHS Digital will pass data from GP surgeries to NHS England. NHS Digital approved the move on Wednesday.

NHS England said that the work would help inform the ‘drive to relieve pressure on A&E by reducing the number of non-urgent attendances,’ and that it supported moves to improve access to services outlined in the GP Forward View plans, including the rolling out of evening and weekend appointments to 100% of the population by March 2019.

All GP practices will be given six weeks notice before data starts being collected.

NHS England and NHS Digital said that they had made a commitment to fund the data collection project and that while the data would be published, it would not contain any identifiable patient information.

If the data is not collected, NHS England said, there will continue to be a ‘lack of understanding’ of the pressures on NHS services over winter and other holiday periods’.

NHS England said that it would lead the engagement with GPs and that the data collection would be closely related to the GP Workload tool.

The paper highlighted a number of risks to the plan, including the very short timeframe given to collect data, the capacity of the data collector GP Principal Clinical System Suppliers to undertake development and deliver the data within the time available and support for the scheme from healthcare professionals.

The risk that variable data quality could affect how it could be used in future, was also highlighted.

GP leaders have raised concerns that the collection of appointment data will be used to censure, rather than support practices.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The BMA has raised concerns with NHS England about the quality of the data, the difficulty in interpreting the information it receives and, crucially, that this must be used to support general practice in identifying and dealing with rising workloads as we enter the busy winter period.

‘It must not be used as a new stick to beat practices with.’