- General practice appointment data (GPAD) have been collected by NHS Digital for the past five years, but have only recently been made available to the public
- The anonymised GPAD data are extracted monthly by NHS Digital
- The data only reflect the ‘appointment book’ in the clinical system, so ad-hoc phone calls, face-to-face conversations and admin work will not be recorded
- Make sure your practice appointment book is correctly configured, and that your slots are defined as bookable, as these are the appointments that GPAD will extract
- Consider arranging a training session for consulting staff to ensure they are recording their interactions correctly and uniformly
- Consider peer-reviewing your data with similar practices or across your PCN
Dr Jonathan Inglesfield is a GP in Cranleigh, Surrey and clinical director of primary care transformation at Surrey Heartlands ICS
General practice appointment data (GPAD) have been collected by NHS Digital for the past five years, but were only recently made available to the public.
On NHS Digital’s website, patients in England can now access data on everything from how many appointments their practice is delivering to how many appointments are conducted remotely or face to face.
While the Department of Health and Social Care says it is publicising the data to allow patients ‘to make informed choices on the GP practice they choose to visit’, the media have also taken a keen interest. The Daily Mail used the data to create a ‘How bad is my GP?’ guide, while news outlets in my local area of Surrey (and across England) ran articles with headlines such as ‘GP surgeries with the fewest face-to-face appointments’.
Of course, it is only natural for patients to be interested in the data, and hopefully they will view them in the context of their real lived experience. But it is important for practices to understand how GPAD work to get the most accurate results.
How GPAD works
The anonymised GPAD data are extracted centrally by NHS Digital, and this happens monthly, retrospectively. It only examines the ‘appointment book’ in the clinical system, so ad-hoc phone calls and face-to-face conversations will not be recorded.
Non-consultation workload, such as reviewing hospital letters, processing lab results, clinical team meetings, prescribing reviews and medical record reviews are missed completely.
The data set is characterised as ‘experimental’ by NHS Digital, mainly because it relies on the appointment type – or ‘mapping’ – being a true reflection of the encounter with the patient.
A glance at current GPAD data, for example, reveals there are dozens of practices that seemingly never deliver telephone consultations. But it is much more likely that these consultations are taking place and not being recorded as telephone consultations.
It is also important to realise that reported GPAD data usually only cover activity taking place in the core practice setting – and not, for example, primary care network (PCN) activity or extended hours consultation.
However, the miscoding of such activity is likely to lead to additional data quality issues. NHS Digital also states the system cannot offer a picture of either capacity or demand and should not be used to estimate GP workload.
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