Patient numbers at GP surgeries have risen by up to a third in only two years.
A growing population and a recruitment crisis mean family doctors are coming under huge pressure.
NHS figures reveal that GPs had an average of 2,187 registered patients at the end of last year, up from 2,068 in December 2016.
The 6 per cent rise is eclipsed by much larger increases in some areas. In Swale, Kent, the number of patients per GP has surged 31 per cent, from 2,716 to 3,553 over the two years.
Swindon and Kent’s south coast have both seen a 30 per cent rise while 23 other health districts have had increases of at least 15 per cent.
Kelly Osborne, 44, with three-year-old daughter Poppy, says the biggest problem with her GP is getting through on the telephone
These include Norwich, East Surrey, Southend, Blackpool, Knowsley in Merseyside and Southwark in south London.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘It is deeply concerning to see any 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.’
Baroness Jolly, Liberal Democrat health spokesman, said: ‘This looks like the beginning of the collapse of the general practice system. GPs are tired, overworked and do not want to work in inner cities or rural areas. Older GPs are choosing to retire early and many young ones choose not to practise at all.’
Linda Francis, 54, is used to long waits for appointments at Swindon Health Centre
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 1.4million patients – some of whom, however, 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 £1million in their retirement pots before incurring charges, whereas previously there was no limit.
According to the campaign group Everydoctor, one GP, who last year dropped two of her eight sessions a week, now intends to drop two more.
Another family doctor, who is facing an £18,000 tax bill relating to his pension, has decided to stop doing extra out-of-hours work.
And, according to the Guardian, a third doctor has dropped four of his ten shifts because he had ended up paying more in tax than he earnt.
Boris Johnson promised last week to tackle the pressures on family surgeries.
In his first speech outside 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister said: ‘My job is to make sure you don’t have to wait three weeks to see your GP.’
But patients in badly-affected surgeries in Kent and Swindon told the Mail they usually waited a month. Many spoke of the frustration of trying to get through on the phones to try to secure an appointment.
Jonathan Ashworth, the Labour Party’s health spokesman, said: ‘The Government has sat back and watched general practice crumble.
‘After nine years of the most severe funding squeeze in the history of the NHS, there is a crisis in primary care, with fewer GPs, practices closing and patients forced to wait longer and longer for an appointment.’
Tina Thomsett ended up in hospital because she was not seen by a GP when the 53-year-old developed an abscess on her leg which became infected
It was only when she showed her swollen leg to an ambulance crew attending to her friend that she was taken straight to hospital for an operation
In Knowsley the number of patients per GP rose by 23 per cent in two years while in Southend it went up by 21 per cent. The total increased by 20 per cent in Telford and Wrekin in Shropshire and Cannock Chase in Staffordshire and by 19 per cent in both Blackpool and Southwark.
In May, figures obtained by Pulse magazine showed that GP surgeries were closing at a rate of two a week, partly due to the pensions crisis.
And an analysis by the Nuffield Trust think-tank the same month found that the health service was experiencing its first sustained fall in family doctor numbers in 50 years.
Dr Billy Palmer, senior fellow in health policy at the trust, said: ‘This is having a direct impact on patients, making it harder to see a GP and often impossible to see the one you want.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said: ‘For a long time, NHS England, the Department of Health and the Treasury chose to ignore the warnings given by the BMA about the crisis that would come as a result of the punitive pension taxes.’
He cited other reasons for the rise in numbers including people living longer and the failure of the Government to recruit additional GPs.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has launched a three-month consultation on the NHS pension scheme with a promise to ‘listen to doctors’.
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 per cent rise in patients per GP is the equivalent of every full-time family doctor taking on an additional 120 patients.
On hold for an hour in hope of seeing a GP
Kelly Osborne, 44, says the biggest problem with her GP is getting through on the telephone.
Patients can apparently be put on hold for an hour trying to book an appointment at the Guildhall surgery in Folkestone, Kent.
Mrs Osborne, whose daughter Poppy is three, said: ‘What bothers me is the phone booking system and how it affects elderly people. You can be on hold for up to an hour. It’s awful – they need to sort it out.’
Linda Francis, 54, is used to long waits for appointments at Swindon Health Centre. ‘It’s normally a month before you see a GP, unless you ring up at 8am and hope and pray they have availability,’ she said.
‘It took my husband three weeks to get medication for a swollen foot. He was walking around with no shoe on.
‘It’s not their fault, I understand that it’s a nightmare getting prescriptions.
‘If the GP provides you the wrong sort of prescription, they can’t get it, so then you have to make another appointment to get the prescription changed to get a new one. It is really busy in there though. It’s mental.’
Tina Thomsett ended up in hospital because she was not seen by a GP.
The 53-year-old developed an abscess on her leg which became infected.
She was unable to book an appointment at Grovehurst Surgery in Sittingbourne, Kent, for several days.
It was only when she showed her swollen leg to an ambulance crew attending to her friend that she was taken straight to hospital for an operation.
She said: ‘I couldn’t get an appointment. They were all gone by the time I got through on the phone. You’ve got to wait two to three weeks. Have you got to book a time when you are going to be ill?’