26.The National Audit Office report highlighted a large number of important gaps in general practice data, including on levels of activity and demand, and staff capacity. For example the Department stopped collecting data on the number of consultations in 2008–09, and there are gaps in the data on the general practice workforce, including on staff vacancies and locum GPs. The Royal College of General Practitioners said that the NHS has no system to track its medical workforce, so it does not know how many qualified GPs there are in total, or how many qualified GPs leave general practice, either to work in other parts of the NHS or to leave the profession altogether.
27.The Royal College of General Practitioners also said that individual general practices did collect a range of clinical data such as the number and length of consultations, the reason for the appointment, and which member of staff saw the patient. But these data were not extracted, analysed and used. We note that the General Practice Extraction System aimed to provide this information but, as we reported in December 2015, this project is late and still does not deliver all that was intended.
28.The Department and NHS England agreed that it was important to collect sufficient data in order to have a comprehensive understanding of what was happening in general practice. However, NHS England highlighted that it needed to be cautious about asking GPs to collect more data. The Department told us that it used a range of sources of data about general practice, particularly the GP Patient Survey, which it saw as providing good proxy indicators of the pressure on general practice.
29.There was general agreement that better data were needed, particularly for tracking workload and consultations. The Department and NHS England said they were starting to strengthen the available data. NHS England had commissioned the National Institute of Health Research to report on how workload and consultation rates have changed using a longitudinal sample of 250,000 patients over 10 years. In addition, the Department had developed plans to improve workforce data, particularly on vacancy rates, and expected to have a more comprehensive breakdown of the general practice workforce in 2016. NHS England added that local knowledge was also important to help practices manage their own demand. It has developed a software tool to help practices track demand so that they could plan their staffing according to the times of day and week when patients were more likely to want an appointment.
58 General practice extraction service
Prepared 3 March 2016