Millions of GP appointments 'missed' during pandemic

26 million fewer appointments since March

Adam Saville
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Millions of GP appointments 'missed' during pandemic

CQC warns that number of ‘lost’ appointments could mean that millions have not seen GP

Since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were around 26 million fewer appointments at GP surgeries, according to NHS Digital statistics.

There were around 119.5 million appointments made in England during March and August this year, compared to 146.2 million during the same period last year.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) has warned that millions could have missed out on vital care or missed cancer diagnoses as a result. It called for an "active effort" to find those who may have delayed or ignore signs of poor health.

Last week, figures from Cancer Research UK estimated that more than 350,000 people in the UK missed out on urgent referral to hospital with suspected cancer symptoms since the pandemic stuck at the end of the March.

The CQC annual assessment of the state of health and social care put the drop in GP appointments down to a number factors, including people putting off seeking help, avoiding GP practices or having troubling accessing care online or on the phone.

‘Employers have a role to play'

In light of the CQC findings, Paul Avis, strategic proposition director, group insurance, Canada Life said: "The analysis from the CQC proves what many had already suspected, that Covid-19 had put patients off seeking treatment from their GP risking delayed diagnoses or worsening existing illnesses.

"In a relatively short space of time the pandemic has significantly changed the way that healthcare needs to be both offered and accessed however employers have a role to play in highlighting the new technology emerging to allay the fears that people have around physically going to the doctors. Group support services allow employees to support their employees with access to virtual GP appointments and mental health support, or even fitness guidance and advice on stopping smoking.

"When screening and other routine assessments are not done it risks a higher incidence of cancers, strokes and heart attacks in the future as people avoid seeking medical support, even when symptomatic. At the same time we are seeing an increase in issues surrounding mental health and illness, so the NHS is likely to become increasingly stretched with or without Covid. Employers can help this inevitable squeeze by ensuring their employee benefit package is meeting these imminent health concerns both during and after the pandemic."

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