The number of patients at GP surgeries has risen by up to a third in only two years, NHS figures show.
GPs had an average of 2,187 registered patients at the end of last year, an increase of 6% from 2,068 in December 2016.
In some areas the increases have been much higher. In Swale, Kent, the number of patients per GP has surged 31%, from 2,716 to 3,553 over two years.
Swindon and Kent’s south coast have both seen a 30% rise while 23 other health districts have had increases of at least 15%. These include Norwich, East Surrey, Southend, Blackpool, Knowsley in Merseyside and Southwark in south London, according to the data reported by the Daily Mail.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said it is deeply concerning to see figures that show rising patient numbers without a corresponding increase in the number of GPs to provide high levels of care for them.
“The inevitable knock-on effects are soaring workload for GPs and our teams and patients having to wait longer for appointments. These figures show that in certain areas of the country, these pressures are particularly severe,” she added.
The figures, which exclude trainees and locums, also show that the NHS lost almost 900 full-time GPs between December 2016 and December 2018. Over the same period English surgeries have gained an additional 1.4 million patients, although some of these will be duplicates.
The staffing crisis has been exacerbated by significant numbers of doctors retiring in their 50s to avoid new tax penalties on their pensions. They are now allowed to save a maximum of £1m in their retirement pots before incurring charges, whereas previously there was no limit.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has launched a three-month consultation on the NHS pension scheme.
An NHS spokesman said: “GP retirements have meant GP numbers falling, but fortunately the number of young doctors now training to be a GP is at its highest ever. So over time GP numbers should again grow, building on the 300 increase over the past year, and this will be helped by a comprehensive solution to the pensions issue which has led to more early retirements.”
The 6% rise in patients per GP is the equivalent of every full-time family doctor taking on an additional 120 patients.