There has been a jump in the number of appointments offered by GPs in England, and a rise in those that are face-to-face, data shows.
Figures from NHS Digital show that 28.5 million appointments were estimated to have taken place in September – around 8% higher than for the same month in 2019, and up around three million on the figure for August.
Some 43.2% of appointments in September took place on the same day they were booked and 61% of appointments were in-person.
This 17.3 million total for face-to-face contacts is the highest figure recorded since February 2020 and is up around 3.5 million on the figure for August when 58% of appointments were face-to-face, the data suggests.
Before the pandemic, around 80% of general practice appointments were conducted face-to-face.
GPs have come under fire over allegations they are not offering enough in-person appointments, with the Government planning on naming and shaming those practices that fail to deliver more.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has said it plans to ballot its members on industrial action after it rejected Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s plans for general practice.
Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Today’s 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 and fit around other commitments, and some patients find it more comfortable to discuss aspects of their health remotely.
“Despite workload being higher than pre-pandemic levels, as today’s figures show, general practice continues to face intense workforce pressures – something that yesterday’s Budget failed to address.
“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%.
“GPs are burning out and working in conditions that are unsafe for their own health and that of their patients.”
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the figures were “testament to the dedication of GPs and practice staff who are going above and beyond to deliver care in exceptionally difficult circumstances, amid a persistent decline in the number of GPs and the implications of Covid safety measures on how care can be delivered”.
He said the rise in face-to-face appointments should “put to bed the demoralising and inaccurate narrative that GPs are no longer seeing patients in-person”.
He added: “While GPs are seeing far more patients and clearing the backlog, we should not underestimate the impact this is having as there is no denying that the current demand and workload on GPs and the wider workforce is taking an incredible toll.
“It was hugely disappointing that yesterday’s Budget made no mention of general practice and the Government have again failed to set out any credible plans for how 50 million appointments can be delivered or offer support to boost the workforce.”
An NHS spokesman said: “These latest figures show that general practice is working hard to ensure that patients get the care they need with over 17 million face-to-face appointments in September – the highest number since the start of the pandemic – and over 3.5 million more than in August.”