Face-to-face GP appointments back to pre-pandemic levels

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The proportion of people seeing their GP face-to-face is higher than at the start of the pandemic for the first time, new figures show. More than two-thirds of appointments (68.1 percent) with family doctors in England were carried out in person in September, according to the latest data from NHS Digital.

This is the first time the proportion of face-to-face appointments has been above the 66.2 percent recorded in March 2020, the month the country went into its first national lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The proportion of face-to-face appointments has been steadily rising since the start of 2022, up from 60.1 percent in January, but has still not returned to the pre-pandemic levels of around 80 percent.

NHS England’s director of primary care Dr Ursula Montgomery said: “Thanks to the relentless efforts of GP-led teams, tens of millions of people are getting seen by local clinicians across the country, while the highest proportion of face-to-face appointments took place last month since before the pandemic.

“GP teams also delivered over 858,000 Covid-19 vaccinations last month as the autumn booster rollout started, and those eligible for an autumn booster or flu vaccination should continue to come forward to get protected ahead of winter”

The figures show that 19.3 million out of 28.3 million appointments were carried out face-to-face in September, compared with 7.9 million (27.9 percent) over the phone.

This was also the lowest proportion of telephone appointments since March 2020, when it accounted for 27.6 percent of sessions.

Meanwhile, separate data from NHS Digital shows that the number of full-time equivalent qualified permanent GPs has dropped in the past seven years.

There were 26,867 permanent qualified GPs working in England in September this year, down 6 percent from 28,590 in September 2015.

It was also down 0.7 percent from 27,065 in September 2021, the fourth consecutive month there has been a year-on-year fall following drops of 0.5 percent in August, 0.1 percent in July and 0.6 percent in June.

The figures are the latest to suggest the start of a possible trend, though more data is needed to confirm whether the numbers are on a clear downwards path.

GP workforce statistics can fluctuate month to month, which is why year-on-year comparisons are a more reliable measure of long-term change.

The latest figures also show the proportion of GPs in England working full-time at local surgeries continues to be at its lowest level since current records began nearly seven years ago.

Fewer than one in four (23 percent) qualified permanent GPs worked at least 37.5 hours a week in September 2022, while nearly seven in 10 (69 percent) worked between 15 and 37.5 hours.

In September last year, 24 percent of qualified permanent GPs worked full-time, with 68 percent working between 15 and 37.5 hours a week, while the figures show the proportion of GPs working full-time stood at a third (33 percent) in September 2015.

All statistics are based on the number of full-time equivalent posts in the GP workforce and do not include trainees or locums.

Ruth Rankine, director of primary care at the NHS Confederation, said: “The figures published today show just how hard general practice is working to care for their patients.

“With over 29 million appointments delivered in September, nearly 70 percent of which were face to face is a phenomenal achievement. Proving yet again in the face of critics, whatever the weather, staff working in the NHS pull through time and again.

“General practice is delivering more than ever before with over 10 percent more activity than before the pandemic despite the numbers of GPs continuing to fall.

“It is encouraging to see the numbers of other primary care professionals increase but we know to truly meet the significant increases in demand for services we need to retain as many people as possible at the same time as building a clear plan for how we will recruit and train more.

“We need our new Prime Minister and Chancellor to urgently face up to the chronic staff shortages across the NHS and the Government must set out a fully funded workforce plan to address this.”

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