'Ghost patients' nothing sinister, simply a records management issue - College responds to figures

College Vice Chair, Dr Victoria Tzortziou-Brown, featured in The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent today responding to an investigation from PA News Agency into ‘ghost patients’ which are discrepancies between estimated population size and the number of people registered at GP practices.

"GP practices try hard to keep their patient lists as up-to-date as possible, but this relies on timely and accurate information about the movement of patients so that individuals are not inappropriately removed from a GP list. So-called ‘ghost patients’ are nothing sinister, and are not a case of surgeries deliberately profiting by keeping patients on their lists when they shouldn't be there – they are a records management issue.

“This known discrepancy between the estimated size of the local population and the number of people registered at GP practices can occur for a number of reasons. In addition to list inflation, which incorrectly increases the count of patients, there are also issues associated with under-coverage. For example, babies can initially be recorded against their parent's records and are not included in the National Patient Register until formally registered.

"People's circumstances, and therefore our records, change all the time. Some practices, particularly in inner-city areas, have quite a high turnover. Our administrative staff spend a lot of time processing patients' notes when we are informed that they have died, left the surgery or moved elsewhere. Recent developments enabling timely electronic transfer of patient records between practices when a patient moves, can assist towards better accuracy of GP records in the future.

“GPs and our teams are currently working under intense workload and workforce pressures to ensure patients receive safe, timely and appropriate access to care and services. Data shows that numbers of patient consultations carried out in general practice are consistently exceeding pre-pandemic levels, with more than 32 million delivered in September, nearly 5 million more than the same month in 2019, but with 827 fewer fully-qualified, full time GPs than at the end of 2019.

“Our recent manifesto outlines seven solutions that will help improve patient access to safe and timely care and ensure that there are enough GPs and other primary care professionals to safeguard the future of general practice and the wider NHS.”

Further information

RCGP Press office: 0203 188 7659


Notes to editors

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 54,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.