GP appointment league tables ‘name and shame’ UK practices

GP ‘league tables’ that give patients access to data on UK surgeries that offer the fewest appointments will boost ‘transparency’, say officials.

The data, published on the NHS Digital website on Thursday, could ‘name and shame’ practices, with the UK Government saying it would provide patients with ‘more informed choice’. The tables will set out the number of appointments each England practice offers and the timeframes waited by patients.

You can see your practice’s performance using the online gadget here.

Matt Davies www.inyourarea.co.uk

But GPs hit out, with concerns the scheme will compare sites without ‘accounting for different patient characteristics’. For example, a seaside town possessing an elderly population may have surgeries with fewer appointments than those in the city centres treating younger people.

Steve Barclay, the health and social care secretary, said: “We promised to prioritise patients and improve access, and that is exactly what we have done – and this is just the start. I am determined to make it easier for people to get an appointment with their GP practice when they need one, and this will allow patients to make a more informed choice about the care they receive.”

Thursday marked the first day patients could determine the effectiveness of surgeries using the data, although the idea was announced last year. Leading medics have also raised concerns that more GPs had left the profession than entering it following the publication of Health Education England (HEE) figures detailing the number of doctors starting specialist training to become GPs.

Professor Kamila Hawthorne, the chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said: “We have serious concerns about how the publication of practice-level data will be used to compare practices against each other, as with general, you’re rarely comparing like with like. What works in one may not in another – so they will tailor their services to their patient population.

“We worry this data will be used to create arbitrary ‘league tables’ that don’t account for different patient demographics and ways of working. Those that appear at the bottom will face undue criticism at a time when the profession is already demoralised and working under intense pressures.”

Hawthorne said the published data is ‘experimental’, so it is unclear ‘how comprehensive or useful’ it is. The HEE said 4,032 trainee GPs had joined placements, meeting government targets for GP speciality trainee recruitment.

But the RCGP said up to 19,000 GPs could leave the profession in the next five years due to the ‘intensity of workload pressures’. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s appointment letter to Barclay dropped the Conservative manifesto target of recruiting 6,000 GPs in England by 2024.

Earlier this year, Sajid Javid, the former health secretary, said they would be ‘unlikely to meet the commitment’ due to early retirements among GPs. But the DHSC said it was ‘set to reach its target of 26,000 additional members of primary care staff’.

Reporting by Ella Pickover, PA