Primary care workload pushing general practices to ‘saturation point’

Doctor holding a phone

The workload for GPs and practice nurses increased substantially during the period between 2007 and 2014, a study shows.

The analysis, based on data from 398 general practices in England, found that both the frequency and duration of primary care consultations increased during that time.

“For many years, doctors and nurses have reported increasing workloads but, for the first time, we are able to provide objective data that [proves] this is indeed the case,” says lead author Richard Hobbs from the University of Oxford.

The team looked at data from 101,818,352 GP and nurse consultations. After standardisation for age and sex, they found consultation rates increased by 9.1% over seven years.

The biggest change was in GP telephone consultation rates, which nearly doubled. However, face-to-face consultations still account for 90% of the total, and the average time for these consultations went up from 8.65 to 9.22 minutes in 2014.

The researchers estimate that the amount of clinical time needed for general practice consultations increased by 16% during the study period.

Reporting in The
on 5 April 2016, they say the findings show that general practice in England is reaching “saturation point”. However, the team says there are no rapid solutions to the problem, including the government’s plan to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs.

“If the English population continues to rise overall, as is predicted, and proportions of elderly and young people rise disproportionately, the rises in consultation rates are likely to accelerate,” they conclude.


[1] Hobbs FDR, Bankhead C, Mukhtar T et al. Clinical workload in UK primary care: a retrospective analysis of 100 million consultations in England, 2007–14. Lancet 2016. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(16)00620-6

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, Primary care workload pushing general practices to ‘saturation point’;Online:DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20200968

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