Official data shows a continued reduction in practice appointments, possibly linked to the drive to ensure COVID-19 vaccination.
GP leaders say the latest data is misleading because of the amount of effort going into the vaccination programme. Practices recorded 23.5 million appointments in February compared with 23.8 million in January and 24 million in February last year.There were just 13 million face to face appointments compared with 19.2 million a year ago. The numbers of phone appointments remain high at 9.5 million compared with 3.3 million a year earlier. NHS Digital said there was a slight reduction in same day appointments – 45.6% compared with 46% in January.
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Martin Marshall said: “GPs and our teams are currently taking a leading role in the COVID vaccination programme, delivering around 75% of jabs in England: this has been a Herculean effort that is unlikely to be fully reflected in today’s data. It is also unlikely to reflect the full extent of the expanded flu vaccination programme, delivered in general practice with record uptake of more than 80% amongst patients over-65. As well as delivering the COVID vaccination programme, GPs and our teams are continuing to deliver the care our patients rely on us for – and we will be at the forefront of caring for those whose health has been directly or indirectly impacted by COVID-19. We urgently need more GPs and more members of the practice team to continue delivering the care our patients need, now and in the future.”
He added: “We also need to remember that counting consultation numbers is a rather blunt measure of workload in general practice that doesn’t account for complexity of consultations, which has increased during the pandemic with, on average, nearly three problems being presented at each visit.”