Record numbers of GP appointments in England reveal an NHS at breaking point

by BMA media team

Press release from the BMA.

Location: England
Published: Thursday 23 December 2021

Data published by NHS Digital today1 show that GPs and their teams in England offered patients a record-breaking 34.6 million appointments this November, 26% more than in the same month before the pandemic in 2019.

Dr Farah Jameel, BMA GP committee chair in England, said:

“With all services across the NHS facing extreme pressures, in November GPs in England booked over a million appointments a day. That’s enough appointments to cover over half the population of England in a single month.

“Despite GPs having delivered a record number of appointments, we know that many patients continue to experience long waits to access the care they need as a result of backlog pressures across the wider NHS system.

“GPs and their teams are burnt out, exhausted and struggling to see an end in sight. This is simply unsustainable and unsafe.

“What we’re facing is a situation where patient need has risen substantially at the same time as the number of full-time GPs has fallen. Since 2015, we’ve lost the equivalent of 1,744 full-time, fully qualified GPs – with 321 having left since last December alone. Over the same period, however, the average number of patients each fully qualified, full-time equivalent GP is responsible for has increased by 16% to 2,222 (from 1,923 in 2015) 2.

“Worse still, there is no tangible indication that Government is seeking to urgently resolve the NHS staffing crisis. The government pledged to recruit 6,000 more GPs in England by 2025 in its general election manifesto, but by its own admission, it is not on track to meet that promise.

“We know that an overstretched workforce threatens patient safety and compromises the care patients receive. The vicious cycle of fewer GPs needing to provide more care must end, as both patients and doctors are at risk of harm. The longer this continues, the worse outcomes will get with sicker patients waiting longer to see a doctor.

“These data show that dedicated GPs and their teams are working at an intensity that is unsafe and unsustainable, and that general practice is stretched too thin. There is a real danger that exhaustion and dissatisfaction among GPs will mean that more leave the workforce, placing yet more pressure on those who remain.

“It is not possible to continue to deliver primary care in this way, with both GPs and patients walking a tightrope. I call upon the government to work with us to resolve the staffing crisis in general practice by delivering workable solutions to train, recruit and retain GPs.

“At a time of national emergency, we cannot afford to lose any more staff from our health care service and we cannot carry on at this pace.”

Ends

Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.

1. The latest GP appointment data from NHS digital show that general practice booked a record number of 34.6 million appointments in November 2021 – consisting of 30.5 million standard appointments and 4.1 million Covid vaccination appointments. The total number of appointments in November 2021 – 34.6 million - is 7.1 million (26%) more than comparable pre-Covid levels in November 2019. The number of face-to-face appointments fell by 2.3% between October 2021 and November 2021. In November 2021, 19 million face-to-face appointments were delivered (63% of all appointments) and telephone appointments increased by 5.8% to almost 10 million.

2. The number of GPs in England has fallen at the same time as patient demand has increased. In October 2021, NHS Digital General Practice workforce data showed that England has lost the equivalent of 1,774 fully qualified full-time GPs since 2015. Over the same period, the average number of patients each fully qualified, full-time equivalent GP is responsible for has increased by 16% to 2,222 (from 1,923 in 2015).

3. Find out more about pressures in general practice here.