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GP appointment numbers rising to pre-lockdown levels

by Nicola Merrifield
17 July 2020

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The number of appointments in general practice in England is increasing towards the same level as before lockdown restrictions were introduced.

The most recent data from NHS Digital show there were 4,586,924 booked appointments in the week leading up to 14June.

In the week leading up to 22 March, the day before measures were announced, there were 5,541,838 booked appointments.

This time last year, official data show in the week leading up to 14 June there were 5,710,722 appointments made with practices in England.

During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic around half that number of weekly appointments were made by patients – with just 3,314,502 booked at the lowest point in the week starting on 13 April.

Before the pandemic, face-to-face appointments were the most popular type of consultation – accounting for almost 80% at the start of March, with telephone appointments representing around 14%.

But telephone appointments became far more popular once lockdown measures were announced, according to the latest NHS Digital data.

They have remained that way, with 48% of booked appointments in the week leading up to 14 June being over the phone and 47% being face to face, while video calls make up 0.3%.

RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall, said: ‘GPs have been working hard throughout the pandemic, delivering care to patients with both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 related health concerns, administering vital medical intervention programmes such as childhood vaccinations, working in Covid-19 community based hot hubs, and providing further essential support to other NHS services.

‘As the lockdown continues to be lifted, we expect routine GP consultation numbers to continue to rise as patients who were reluctant to seek medical care during the pandemic start accessing our services.

‘We also anticipate a significant number of patients who will require GP care to aid their recovery from longer-term physical and mental health impact of the Covid-19 virus.’

NHS Digital said its latest data on weekly appointments had been produced from GP systems not designed for data analysis. It said it was releasing the weekly information ‘to support primary care services during Covid-19’.

It stressed the data should not be used to represent GP workload or its complexity.

It said: ‘This information does not give a complete view of GP activity so should not be used to infer a view of workload. The data presented only contains information which was captured on the GP practice systems. This limits the activity reported on and does not represent all work happening within a primary care setting or assess the complexity of activity.’

A version of this story first appeared on HCL’s sister title Pulse.