The Labour Party has quoted NHS Digital figures to highlight what it claims is a decline of GP services under the Conservatives.
In October there were six million GP appointments, out of 31 million, for which patients had a wait of more than two weeks. Labour said it was "yet more damning evidence of the crisis our NHS is in after a decade of Tory cuts".
However, the figures don’t distinguish between those patients who were happy to wait for a more routine meeting at their local surgery and those who wanted a more immediate appointment and could not get one.
The NHS Digital data show that 2.45 million patients waited between 15 and 21 days in October to see a GP or other practice clinician, which was 8.3% of the total number of appointments, compared with 8% in October 2018.
Another 1.69 million waited between 22 and 28 days for a GP appointment while 1.66 million waited more than 28 days.
In both cases there was an increase in the percentage of patients affected compared to October last year, and the overall number of appointments increased to 30.8 million in October 2019 from 29.7 million in the same month the year before.
New figures on the GP workforce in England were also quoted by Labour, that reveal the number of fully qualified doctors in general practice had fallen by more than 1600 since September 2015 to just under 27,000 in September this year.
However, expansion of GP training posts in recent years and record recruitment to GP training in 2018 and 2019 have bolstered numbers of GP registrars in the official workforce data, with 6547 full time equivalent (FTE) registrars in September 2019, up 11% from a year earlier.
The total count of FTE GPs in England, including registrars, rose by just under 1% over the past year to 34,862.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "More families are struggling to get a GP appointment after the Tories have allowed the numbers of families' doctors in our communities to fall."
He said Labour had a £40 billion rescue plan to invest in general practice so that more doctors would be recruited and millions more GP appointments provided. If elected, Labour has promised to increase the number of GP training places in England from 3500 to 5000 a year.
The Conservatives highlighted their plans to deliver 50 million more GP appointments by 2024 to 2025 if elected, increase training places to 4000 and recruit more GPs from abroad along with measures to boost retention.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "It's great news that we've seen an increase in the number of GPs, and that more people are getting a GP appointment the same or next day. A Conservative majority government will create 6000 more GPs and deliver 50 million more GP appointments to make sure everyone can get the care and treatment they need faster."
Last reviewed 3 December 2019