‘Ghost patients’ boost GP coffers by £955 million after figures rise by two thirds in the past five years

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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  • The TaxPayers’ Alliance said the public should not be subsidising GPs in this way

GP surgeries are being paid millions of pounds a year for patients who do not exist, figures show.

The number of ‘ghost patients’ who remain on family doctors’ books – despite dying or moving away – has risen by almost two thirds over the last five years.

There were 62.9million people registered with GPs in England on November 1 last year, according to data from NHS Digital, although Office for National Statistics figures put the population at only 57.1million – a 5.8million difference.

Yesterday, the TaxPayers’ Alliance said the public should not be subsidising GPs in this way. Its researcher Tom Ryan said: ‘Unless these missing patients can be found, funding for GP practices should be amended accordingly.’

GPs are paid for patients on their list, getting an average of £164.64 per registered patient in 2022-23, so practices could have received £955million for patients in that time who might not exist.

The number of ‘ghost patients’ is 61 per cent higher now than five years ago, when the figure was an estimated 3.6million, despite vows of a crackdown (Stock Image) 

The number of ‘ghost patients’ is 61 per cent higher now than five years ago, when the figure was an estimated 3.6million, despite vows of a crackdown.

In 2019, the NHS Counter Fraud Authority began formally investigating whether GPs were claiming for non-existent patients but this work was halted during Covid.

Unions including the British Medical Association tried to block the move, claiming it was ‘a bureaucratic burden’ on overstretched doctors. And the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) denied practices were deliberately profiting by keeping non-existent patients on their lists.

RCGP vice-chairman Dr Victoria Tzortziou Brown said: ‘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.’

The TaxPayers' Alliance said the public should not be subsidising GPs in this way. Its researcher Tom Ryan said: 'Unless these missing patients can be found, funding for GP practices should be amended accordingly' (Stock Image)

The TaxPayers’ Alliance said the public should not be subsidising GPs in this way. Its researcher Tom Ryan said: ‘Unless these missing patients can be found, funding for GP practices should be amended accordingly’ (Stock Image)

She blamed rising workloads, saying more than 32million appointments were delivered in September, nearly five million more than the same month in 2019, but with 827 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs than at the end of 2019.

She added: ‘Recent developments enabling timely electronic transfer of patient records between practices when a patient moves can assist.’

An NHS Counter Fraud Authority spokeswoman said its 2019 investigation ‘was effectively halted by difficulties in obtaining core data, and our priorities shifted from this position with the NHS response to Covid-19. We have not yet revisited the issue as we direct our resources to where the intelligence indicates the most appropriate priorities sit’.

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