GP PRACTICES in Dorset saw a sharp rise in activity in March, with tens of thousands more appointments recorded than the previous month.
Doctors groups have warned that GPs could flex under the pressure of “unsustainable” workloads as they juggle a growing number of appointments with the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine.
NHS Digital data shows doctors made 428,372 appointments with patients during surgeries in the NHS Dorset GCC region in March – 79,247 more than in February.
It was also 42,555 more than in the same month last year when the pandemic started.
Demand has skyrocketed in GP practices across England, with every CCG area in the country seeing a significant increase in activity.
Nationally, 28.4 million appointments were recorded in March – the highest monthly figure since October 2019.
This means that doctors delivered 4.8 million more consultations than the previous month.
NHS Digital estimated that around 1.2 million bookings were linked to Covid-19 vaccinations.
“These numbers confirm what GPs have been trying to communicate to the public for a year, that GP practices have never closed and that we are in fact busier than ever,” said Dr Ellen Welch of the Doctors’ Association UK.
Despite this, she added, the group was still hearing reports that patients are having more difficulty accessing care than ever before.
DAUK recently wrote a letter to Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding an urgent review of demand at GP surgeries after seeing workloads “explode”.
“We have not yet received a response to our letter to the government on this matter,” added Dr Welch.
âBut DAUK remains concerned that the practices are operating beyond its capacity, leading to burnout and staff retention issues, which ultimately impacts patient care.
A recent survey by patient group Healthwatch England, which drew on patient experiences up to December, found that many people were struggling to access care from their GPs.
He also raised concerns that the increase in remote appointments during the pandemic was not meeting everyone’s needs.
In Dorset, 69% of appointments were made in person in March, based on those for which the type of appointment was recorded.
That figure was down from 76% a year earlier, although NHS Digital said changes in how practices work during the pandemic may have affected the way appointments are recorded.
âEvery day, over a million patients in England had an appointment with their practice, whether that was the high proportion of people seen face to face, on the phone or, for a smaller number, by video call, âsaid Dr Richard Vautrey, Chairman of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners Committee.
“This phenomenal amount and the associated workload are before we consider the hundreds of thousands of other people being vaccinated every day through sites run by general practitioners.”
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said general practitioners had played a critical role in the response to Covid-19, taking care of vulnerable patients while administering a large part of the vaccinations.
She added: “To help increase the capacity of GPs, we have made additional funding of Â£ 270million available until September to ensure GPs can continue to support all patients.”
An NHS spokeswoman said there were now almost 440 more GPs than last year in England.