A STUDY published in BMJ Open has found that ‘frequent attenders’ now make up around 40 per cent of GP consultations in England.
The long-term study analysed nearly 1.7 billion consultations with 12.3 million patients across the UK between April 2000 and March 2019.
Frequent attenders were found to visit their GP five times as often as other patients on a general practice list.
The researchers from University of Manchester looked at patterns among the top 10 per cent of consulting patients and found that they could account for between 30 and 50 per cent of all GP consultations. Consultations with this patient group by all staff in a practice more than doubled over the period, rising from an annual average of 11 per person in 2000–01 to 25 in 2018–19. The equivalent figures for consultations with GPs alone showed an annual average rise of five per person in 2000-01 to eight per person in 2015-18.
The researchers concluded: "Frequent attenders appear to be a major driver for the increase in consultations that have contributed to perceptions of increased workload in general practice.
"GPs should be looking at this group of patients more closely to understand who they are and why they are consulting more frequently."
Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, commented on the findings: "As well as having more patients than 20 years ago, GPs and our teams are seeing more patients who are living with multiple, long-term conditions, who often require general practice care and services more frequently. As this research suggests, this is increasing the complexity of workload in general practice, as well as volume.
"GPs and our teams are working under intense resource and workforce pressures. These pressures existed before the pandemic, but the crisis has only exacerbated them. We urgently need the Government to make good on its promise of 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 more members of the practice team - as well as introducing measures to tackle the ‘undoable’ workload in general practice - so that we're able to deliver the care our patients need, including spending more time with them where necessary."