• Wednesday, May 29, 2024

News

Concerns mount as NHS sees surge in registered ‘ghost patients’

This could mean practices received an estimated £955 million for patients whose existence is uncertain

While the Royal College of GPs emphasises that surgeries strive to maintain accurate patient lists, factors contributing to discrepancies include the omission of certain patients like babies and those who have relocated or left the surgery – Representative Image:iStock

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

The rise in registered patients who might not exist has seen a dramatic increase, climbing almost two-thirds over the past five years, according to recent data.

Dubbed ‘ghost patients,’ this phenomenon occurs when GP practices have more patients on their lists than the actual population count.

This mismatch raises concerns, particularly as GPs are paid for each registered patient, potentially leading to extra income adding up to millions of pounds for practices, The Guardian reported.

NHS Digital figures, scrutinised by the PA news agency, disclosed that on November 1 last year, GP practices in England reported 62.9 million registered patients.

In contrast, the Office for National Statistics estimated the population of England in 2022 at 57.1 million, indicating a discrepancy of about 5.8 million ghost patients associated with surgeries.

This surge represents a 61% increase from five years ago when 2018 data suggested around 3.6 million ghost patients.

The financial implications of this discrepancy are substantial, with GP surgeries potentially receiving an average of £164.64 per registered patient in 2022-23.

This could mean practices received an estimated £955 million for patients whose existence is uncertain.

While the Royal College of GPs emphasises that surgeries strive to maintain accurate patient lists, factors contributing to discrepancies include the omission of certain patients like babies and those who have relocated or left the surgery.

However, the TaxPayers’ Alliance argues that the public is unfairly subsidising GP practices for potentially fictitious patients.

Calls for corrective actions have been made, urging the amendment of lists if unidentified patients cannot be accounted for.

Although an investigation into GP claims for non-existent patients was initiated by the NHS Counter Fraud Authority in 2019, the inquiry was suspended and remains dormant.

Representatives from both the Royal College of GPs and NHS England emphasise the need for regular review and updating of patient lists to ensure accuracy. However, challenges persist in obtaining core data, hindering progress in addressing this issue.

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