Appointments in general practice: supporting information

Summary

Guidance on using the statistical publication Appointments in General Practice, with details of what is and is not included in the figures and what the publication can and cannot tell you.

Version 1.0, 6 December 2018.

Introduction

NHS Digital publishes this information to support winter preparedness and provide information about some activity within primary care. The aim is to inform users, who range from a healthcare professional to an inquiring citizen, about appointments within primary care.

NHS Digital produce this information monthly, containing information about the most recent month and the previous 12 months (where available).

The aim of the publication is to inform users about activity and usage of GP appointments historically and how primary care is impacted by seasonal pressures, such as winter. The publication includes data from participating practices using EMIS and TPP GP systems. This is 95% of the GP estate. Future developments will include Microtest, Informatica and Vision GP systems.

This information does not give a complete view of GP activity so should not be used to infer a view of workload.

The publication includes important information, however it does not show the totality of GP activity/workload. The data presented only contains information which was captured on the GP practice systems. This limits the activity reported on and does not represent all work happening within a primary care setting or assess the complexity of activity.

No patient identifiable information has been collected or is included in this release.

Publication coverage

Details of which GP activities are included, partially included or not included in the publication.

Included

The following activities are included:

  • surgery appointments
  • telephone consultations
  • online consultations

Partially included

The following activities are partially included, if they are in the GP system as individual appointments and booked to a patient:

  • telephone triage
  • home visits
  • immunisations
  • extended access appointments

Appointments outside of core hours with a valid status, Attended, Did not attend (DNA) or Unknown will also be included. See Data quality for more details.

Not included

The following activities are not included:

  • admin
  • supervision
  • training
  • meetings
  • paperwork
  • contacting specialists
  • teaching
  • prescriptions: reviewing
  • prescriptions: actions and results
  • running the business
  • dealing with complaints
  • complying with regulation
  • processing laboratory tests
  • cancelled appointments that were not rebooked

What this publication can tell you

The following information is presented at Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) level to track activity levels for appointments that have already happened, as recorded in participating EMIS and TPP practices in England:

  • activity levels for appointments that have already taken place
  • number of appointments by the date the appointment was scheduled to happen
  • number of appointments marked as 'DNA' (did not attend)
  • the health care professional type of the person seeing the patient
  • the setting of the appointments (face to face, over the phone, etc)
  • the time elapsed from when the appointment was booked until when it was scheduled to happen

What this publication cannot tell you

Appointments with patients are one part of the workload of a GP, which will typically also include many other tasks such as paperwork, meetings and liaising with other health care professionals. Not all GP activity is presented in this publication as only appointment time captured in the practice system is collected.

The number of appointments required can vary based on the needs of patients driven by a number of uncaptured factors. For example the age distribution in an area or the prevalence of long-term illnesses.

This information does not give a complete view of GP activity so should not be used to infer a view of workload.

No information on the demand (the volume of people attempting to book appointments) is presented in this release.

No information is included on capacity (the proportion of available appointments that are used) of appointments in general practice.

This publication does not include any information on appointments marked as ‘available’. These may include:

  • unused patient facing appointments
  • untimed appointments
  • administrative tasks
  • training
  • breaks
  • appointments which were cancelled by patients at short notice and not rebooked to another patient
  • any appointment or activity not recorded in the practice appointment system

Annual estimate

Not all practices in England are included in this release (see Data Quality: Practice Coverage) meaning the total number of appointments is not known. An estimate of the total number of appointments in England has been provided. The estimate is calculated using known appointments that were attended or DNA and scaling up to factor in registered patients that are not included in the collection.

This estimate does not include all GP activity or provide information about demand or capacity of appointments in general practice.

Data quality

Data is collected from GP systems which are designed to be flexible and for practices to use in everyday work and not for the purpose of data analysis. There are no national standards for data entry about activity and there is widespread variation in approach to appointment management between practices. This means that there are variations in data quality between practices.

The main known data quality issues are recorded below.

1. Practice coverage

Information is included from participating EMIS and TPP practices. Coverage information is included in Table 1 of the Appointments in General Practice Summary tables.

Practices with the following criteria have been excluded from the publication:

  • inactive and closed practices
  • practices with less than 1,000 registered patients
  • practices with an appointment rate of less than 1 appointment per registered patient per year

CCGs with the following criteria have been excluded from the publication:

  • CCGs with 1 included practice
  • CCGs with 0 included practices

2. Appointments outside of core hours

The data collected from GP systems includes appointments recorded at any time of day, including core and non-core hours. There has been no restriction or cleaning of the data based on the time an appointment occurred therefore appointments with a valid status (Attended, DNA or Unknown) outside of core hours will be included.

3. Extended access

Extended access appointments are funded directly by CCGs and occur outside of opening hours of 8am to 6.30pm, Monday to Friday and any time on Saturday or Sunday. Practices are required by CCGs to provide extended access to general practice for their whole population. These appointments are often managed outside of the core practice system and may not always be collected with this data.

Therefore, not all extended access information is included in this release. However, appointments outside of core hours provided outside of the extended access scheme, for example by a locally agreed Direct Enhanced Service (DES), will be included.

4. List appointments

Some appointments are included in the GP system serve as lists of activities that need to happen at any point in the day. Practices generally use these so that they appear at the top of the calendar for clinician’s attention. These are often used as reminders or daily task lists and often do not have a specific start or end time or appear to start very early in the morning (6am or before). The majority of these appointments do not have an Attended, DNA or Unknown status so are excluded from this release. These appointments may include for some practices

  • telephone triage lists
  • home visit lists

This may cause counts for these patient interaction types to appear lower in this data release than in practice.

5. Available appointments

Available appointments

Available appointments are collected but not included in this publication due to data quality issues.

As all information in GP appointment systems are collected, this includes any time reserved for breaks, training, admin etc. It is not currently possible to distinguish this time from potentially patient facing slots that go unused. This means any data on available appointments is misleading and will not be used at this time.

Example GP calendar

In the below, all 'Available' status appointments are removed from the publication. This is a mix of admin time, breaks and unused patient facing slots.

Time Appointment type Appointment Status Publication
08:00 Admin Available Not included
08:15 Admin Available Not included
08:30 Admin Available Not included
08:45 Admin Available Not included
09:00 Face to face consultation Attended Included
09:10 Face to face consultation Attended Included
09:20 Face to face consultation Attended Included
09:30 Face to face consultation DNA Included
09:40 Face to face consultation Attended Included
09:50 Face to face consultation Attended Included
10:00 Face to face consultation Attended Included
10:10 Face to face consultation Attended Included
10:20 Face to face consultation Attended Included
10:30 Coffee break Available Not included
10:40 Face to face consultation Attended Included
10:50 Face to face consultation Attended Included
11:00 Face to face consultation Attended Included
11:10 Face to face consultation Attended Included
11:20 Face to face consultation Available Not included
11:30 Face to face consultation Attended Included
11:40 Face to face consultation Attended Included
11:50 Face to face consultation Attended Included
12:00 Lunch Available Not included

This is an illustrative example intended to highlight types of appointments that are or are not included in the results. Some healthcare professionals will see more patients than indicated here.

6. Appointment status

The appointment status shows whether the appointment is available, booked, attended, cancelled or the patient did not attend. This status changes over time, for example when a patient makes a booking, the appointment status changes from ‘Available’ to ‘Booked’. This release reports the final status of each appointment. 

In most cases, at the time of the appointment a ‘Booked’ status will be changed to either ‘Attended’ or ‘DNA’. In some cases (3-6% of monthly appointments), the final status of an appointment remains as ‘Booked’. It is not known from the data whether these appointments were actually attended or not. For this reason, these appointments are reported as 'Unknown' status.

Due to an issue with the data collection, DNA appointments were not captured correctly after June 2018 and are under reported until and including October 2018 for all practices using the TPP SystmOne system.

7. Healthcare professional type

Healthcare professional type (HCP Type) was incorrectly extracted for some practices from October 2017 onwards. This has led to potential incorrect reporting of some HCP Types, including nurses. The only HCP type currently collected with high enough consistency for publication is GP. Therefore, all other HCP types are reported as 'Other Practice Staff' throughout this release.

Blank or missing HCP types are due to the use of generic lists for GPs (for example visits and prescription requests) or staff not set up correctly on the system (for example medical students and team leaders).

Where HCP Type is included it has been grouped in the following way.

The occupations grouped as HCP type 'GP' are:

  • GP registrar
  • Locum GP
  • Principal GP

The occupations grouped as HCP type 'Other Practice Staff' are:

  • Chiropodist
  • Community Psychiatric Nurse
  • Counsellor
  • Dispenser
  • District Nurse
  • Health Visitor
  • Interpreter/Link Worker
  • Osteopath
  • Other Practice Staff
  • Physiotherapist
  • Practice Nurse

If HCP type is recorded as NULL / Missing Data it will be classified as Unknown.

It is possible that a small proportion of GP appointments are classified within Other Practice Staff due to incorrect mappings with data suppliers, for example Trainee GP or GP Partner.

8. Appointment mode

The mode of the appointment shows the setting of the consultation. For example, face-to-face, telephone or home visit. This is set locally by the practices so may not represent the actual care setting of the appointment. For example, some video conference appointments may be logged by the practice as face-to-face.

Most face-to-face time is booked as individual appointment time, typically with one patient attending each time slot. By contrast, many telephone triage and home visits appear as one long blocked period of time which are not booked to individual patients.

Some home visits and telephone triage sessions are booked in to early morning sessions (6am to 6.20am) for each GP as untimed appointments but the consultations happen in the afternoon. They are booked in to early morning sessions so that they appear on the top of the appointment book screen for each GP. At some practices, home visits are logged at reception and not in the practice system.

Unless home visits and telephone triage are logged as individual appointments and booked to a patient they will not appear in this publication.

Appointments marked as online, video or video conference are shown as 'Online / Video'. This may or may not include a video element. Non-video based online consultations such as live chat or Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and video-based appointments are all included in this category.

9. Time from booking to appointment

Time elapsed from when the booking was made to when the appointment happened is presented in this release. There are several factors that drive this variable, including:

  • appointment availability at the practice
  • patient availability
  • urgency of the appointment
  • GP advice
  • regular/repeat appointments that may be booked in advance

Comparison to other collections

Several publications have been produced previously analysing primary care appointment activity and trends. This resource compares methods in analysis of the QResearch database in 2008 with the methods for this publication.

Further information

  1. external

    Improving access to general practice

    NHS England programme to make sure everyone has improved access to GP services, including sufficient routine appointments at evenings and weekends to meet locally determined demand, alongside effective access to out of hours and urgent care services.

  2. external

    Extended access to general practice

    NHS England collection set up to monitor the availability of pre-bookable appointments in general practice at evenings and weekends.