“We want to deliver faster, simpler, fairer access to primary care for patients, and this data shows that we’ve met our target of 50 million additional general practice appointments several months ahead of schedule” – Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom.

Two million more GP appointments a month are being delivered for patients compared to the same month before the pandemic, as part of the NHS primary care access recovery plan.

New NHS data published today shows more than 25.7 million appointments (excluding Covid vaccinations) were delivered by GP practices in December 2023, an increase of 9% compared to pre-pandemic.The figure is 25,891,496 including Covid vaccinations.

The increase in appointments follows an NHS targeted support programme for GP practices to improve access for patients with one GP practice in Warwickshire reducing the number of abandoned calls to their practice by 90%.

Abbey Medical Centre in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, used data provided by their new upgraded telephone system to identify when telephone lines were busiest and to ensure more reception staff were available at peak times.

The practice also targeted their most frequent callers by offering vulnerable patients more support from the same clinicians, with their appointment usage reducing by three-quarters.

The 25 patients who had the most appointments accounted for 8% of the total number of appointments available (50 out of 625 in a week) with the practice serving 16,000 patients.

Thanks to the Primary access recovery plan published by the NHS and Government in May, more than 8 in 10 GP practices have now upgraded their telephone systems with the remaining practices signed up to make the move by March.

The blueprint also gives people more choice in how they access care, with more than 10,000 pharmacies now treating people for 7 common conditions including sinusitis, sore throat, earache, infected insect bite, impetigo, shingles, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections in women over the age of 65.

The action is expected to free up to 10 million GP appointments a year and, with 80% of people in England living within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy, the move will give the public more choice in where and how they access care.

In December, more than two fifths (45.7%) of appointments were booked and attended on the same day, up 3.1% on the previous month and over 7 in 10 appointments were attended within 7 days of booking.

Other appointments such as vaccinations and routine follow-up appointments are booked further in advance.

Every GP practice must offer face-to-face appointments as well as telephone and online consultations, with some patients choosing remote appointments where it is clinically appropriate.

Today’s data shows more than 3 in 5 GP appointments were delivered face-to-face in December.

Dr Amanda Doyle, NHS England National Director for Primary Care and Community Services said: 

“GP teams carried out 2 million more appointments for patients in December compared with the same month in 2019 before the pandemic.

“The NHS published a plan last year to improve access to GP services, which includes upgrading telephone systems to make it easier for people to contact their general practice, while more than 36,000 additional staff have joined GP teams since 2019 to deliver even more appointments.

“This is incredible progress from hardworking teams across the country and we are determined to make it easier to access services around people’s busy lives, so if you are concerned about your health please come forward for care”.

Primary Care Minister Andrea Leadsom said: 

“We want to deliver faster, simpler, fairer access to primary care for patients, and this data shows that we’ve met our target of 50 million additional general practice appointments several months ahead of schedule. I am extremely grateful to all GPs who continue to go above and beyond to deliver the best possible care to patients.

“We have introduced the first ever Long Term Workforce Plan for the NHS, which will help us transform GP services nationwide, providing 6,000 more GP training places a year by 2031, and there are nearly 2,800 more doctors and 36,000 extra staff in general practice now compared to December 2019.

“We are also increasing access through our Primary care recovery plan, including through Pharmacy First, which will improve healthcare access for people across the country and free up 10 million GP appointments a year, and we have made up to £645 million of new funding available to support the expansion of community pharmacy services”.

The NHS has recruited 36,000 additional staff into healthcare roles in general practices across the country since 2019 – well ahead of the target of 26,000 by March 2024.

The NHS has trained almost 2,500 staff to better assess patients’ needs when they first contact their practice so they can be seen by the right health professional in their GP practice, with thousands more staff due to be trained in the coming months.

Case study

Abbey Medical Centre has transformed the way patients access care following participation in the General Practice Improvement Programme.

The general practice in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, used data provided by their new digital telephony system to identify when telephone lines were busiest and to ensure more reception staff were available at peak times. Over 6 months, the number of abandoned calls fell from 247 to just 17 a day, a reduction of more than 90%.

They also promoted the use of forms on their website to request appointments and other kinds of care. The number of patients who used them grew from an average of 10 a day to 70, further reducing telephone demand and the “8am rush” for appointments – one of the key priorities of the Primary care recovery plan.

A key initiative to improve access for all patients focussed on the care they provided to 25 patients who had the most appointments. Their appointments at the practice accounted for 8% of the total number available (50 out of 625 in a week) to the practice’s 16,000 patients.

Over 6 months, the practice team steadily improved how they managed the care of these vulnerable patients, focussing on ensuring care continuity from the right clinical professional, usually a GP or nurse. Many of these patients needed wound dressing and care.

The practice developed a whole-team protocol and approach for managing wound care, including consistent steps for practice nurses, new communications methods to support team working and clear guidance on referral options so that, if required, patients could get timely access to specialist care. After 6 months, the number of appointments needed by these patients fell to 2% of all appointments (15/800), a reduction of 75%. As well as providing better, safer care for them, the new approach freed up 48 nurse and GP appointments (18 GP, 30 nurse) each week for other needy patients.

Ryan Smith, Non-Clinical Partner at the practice said: 

“The General Practice Improvement Programme has really helped us continue to improve our services so that more patients can get the care they need more easily. It’s particularly helped the patients who we previously saw most frequently, many as often as twice a week, by enabling us to focus on how we provide the best care for them, so they get the care they need with fewer appointments, which is better for them and means there are more appointments available for others who also need them”.

Source: NHS / Public Health England

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here