Huge increase in GP practice appointments - but fewer than half are with a doctor

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GP surgeries in the North West are seeing more patients now than before the pandemic - but only half of appointments are being delivered by a doctor themselves.

An additional 800,000 consultations were carried out in practices in March compared to the same month in 2019 - bringing the total to 3.5 million.

However, the latest NHS data shows 51 percent of those appointments were conducted by healthcare staff in roles other than a GP. 

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NHS England claims the additional support that has been recruited for GPs inj recent years makes it more convenient for patients to get the timely help they need from the right healthcare professional – whether that’s a doctor, nurse, physio or mental health practitioner.  

In the North West, 4,320 additional healthcare positions have been created within general practice since 2019.

The newly-published stats show that more than 2.3 million of the March 2024 tally of appointments were held face-to-face, with the remainder being carried out over the phone or via video.

Every GP practice must offer in person appointments, but some patients choose remote access when it is more convenient for them - and if it is deemed clinically appropriate.

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Meanwhile, three quarters of surgeries in the region have now upgraded their phone systems to set-ups which mean lines will never be engaged, but patients may be placed in queue.   The remaining practices without such kit are agreeing dates within the next month for its implementation.

Dr Linda Charles-Ozuzu - NHS England North West’s senior responsible officer for the primary care access recovery plan - said: “The latest data demonstrates that more people are getting the care they need, when they need it, thanks to the hard work of our GPs and their teams.   

“GPs and their staff have already delivered on a number of pledges made a year ago in the publication of the Primary Care Access Recovery Plan - and thanks to schemes like Pharmacy First, we are freeing up more capacity in the system than ever before.”

Dr Paula Cowan, the regional medical director for primary care at NHS England North West. added: “Thanks to GPs and the multidisciplinary team work of clinicians and non-clinicians working in general practice, more appointments are being delivered every month compared to before the pandemic - with plans in place to improve access even further.    

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“Advances are being made in access to general practice, including digital triage, alongside upgrading telephone systems to make it easier for patients to contact their surgery - while patients can use the NHS app to order repeat prescriptions and view their test results without needing to contact their family doctor.

“We know there is more to do to make it easier for patients to access GP services, which is why, building on the successes so far of the Primary Care Access Recovery Plan, we will continue to modernise general practice, expand pharmacy services, and offer patients more choice in how they access care.” 

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