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November 2021

Consultations soar to above pre-pandemic levels

More than 28m consultations were made in general practice in England in September, many on the same day they were requested – that's nearly 5m more than in August, and over 2m more than in the same month in 2019 before the pandemic.

Of these, over 17.3m – more than six in 10 – were delivered in person, 3.7m more than in August.

Responding to the latest general practice consultation figures in England, RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall, said the figures highlight ‘just how extremely hard GPs and our teams are working, caring for patients in their communities and alleviating pressures elsewhere in the NHS.

‘The College has always been clear that post-pandemic, when it is safe, we would like to see a blend of in person and remote care being delivered in general practice, and that how GP care is accessed should be a shared decision between patient and clinician.

‘This is clearly already happening – yet the narrative that remote care is sub-standard prevails and is concerning. Good, safe and personalised care can be delivered remotely, and it is not confined to general practice. We are seeing a move towards more remote care across the NHS, and many patients prefer it as it can be more convenient.’

Despite workload being higher than pre-pandemic levels, as these figures show, general practice continues to face intense workforce pressures. The size of the qualified GP workforce fell by almost 6% between September 2015 and August 2021, meaning that the ratio of patients to GPs has increased by more than 10%.

Professor Marshall said: ‘We need the Government and health leaders to publicly support general practice – and the recent “rescue package” doesn’t scratch the surface. The Government urgently needs to make good on their manifesto pledge of an additional 6,000 GPs, and 26,000 members of the wider practice team, by 2024, and they need to start by tackling “undoable” workload.’

While the Budget in October promised £5.9bn in capital funding for the NHS, it is thought that little of the additional funding with trickle down to general practice. BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘It is hugely disappointing that [the] budget made no mention of general practice and the government has again failed to set out any credible plans for how 50m appointments can be delivered or offer support to boost the workforce.’

Integrated care system (ICS) leaders plan to ignore orders to name and shame GP practices delivering low levels of face-to-face appointments, warning the measures would increase pressure on ‘already frantic’ primary care staff, according to a report in GPonline. And The Guardian claims NHS England has told the BMA that there were no longer any plans to publish monthly league table data showing the proportion of appointments in person.

Practice Nurse 2021;51(9):7