Flawed data on GP consultations could leave practices facing unfair access targets, the BMA’s GP committee chair has warned
This is an edited version of an article first published by GPonline.
Current NHS data on GP consultations do not differentiate between patients experiencing long waits to be seen and those booking in advance or waiting for a specific doctor.
Dr Richard Vautrey said this was ‘unhelpful’ for identifying practices with genuine workload problems and made it difficult to know which types of consultations patients were struggling to access.
He also warned that unclear data could also lead to the government setting ‘unhelpful or damaging access targets’ that would pile additional pressure onto an already overburdened workforce.
The warning comes just months after Boris Johnson told MPs in his first speech as prime minister that he had ‘asked officials to provide policy proposals for drastically reducing waiting times for GP appointments’.
Recent data from NHS Digital suggested that around one in six appointments took place more than two weeks after they were booked – although the proportion of these booked ahead is deliberately unknown. Almost seven in 10 GP appointments were delivered within a week or less.
Speaking at the Best Practice conference in Birmingham, Dr Vautrey said the way practices collected patient consultation data was not standardised, making it more difficult to gather and interpret data.
To gain a truer representation of access trends, the Leeds GP said practices should be helped to collect more detailed information about consultations.
Dr Stephen Miller, clinical director of primary care technology at NHS Digital said: “We have a statutory duty to continually improve the quality of the data we collect.
“As part of this, we are exploring how we might be able to introduce a standard for appointment categories across all GP systems, in collaboration with partner organisations, GP practices, system suppliers and other stakeholders.
“This work would aim to provide nationally consistent reporting of the prevalence of different appointment types, without adding to the administrative burden of GPs or other practice staff.
“At all stages, changes are driven by and informed by the user needs of our stakeholders, most importantly, GP practices.”