How oversubscribed is your GP surgery? New data reveals postcode lottery

St John's Surgery at Terrington St John has joined eight other GP practices across Norfolk and Waveney in vaccinating...

St John's surgery in Wisbech is one of the most overburdened in the county, with one permanent full-time GP serving more than 6000 patients - Credit: Google

New data has laid bare the unfairness of the county's postcode lottery when it comes to GP availability.

The most oversubscribed surgery in the county has more than 6,000 patients for every doctor, while the least has fewer than 1,000.

Use our interactive tools below to see how your surgery compares.

We phoned the busiest surgery in the county to request an interview only to discover there were 18 callers ahead in the call queue. 

The busiest practice in the Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area is Elmham Surgery, in Elmham, outside Dereham, which has 6,173 patients for each GP.


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The NHS Digital data, correct as at March 31 of this year, counts the hours worked by all permanent, fully-qualified GPs (excluding registrars and locums) to produce "FTE" or full time equivalent figures - so two doctors each working half a week would be recorded as one FTE GP.

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GP surgeries have been overseeing some of the country's coronavirus vaccine roll-out. - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

In the case of Elmham, there are six doctors at the practice but their hours only add up to the equivalent of 1.6 full time GPs, dealing with a total of 9,877 patients on the practice’s books.

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Meanwhile the second most oversubscribed practice, which lies between King's Lynn and Wisbech, is run by a single GP - Dr Susan Atcheson, who has 6,073 patients to look after by herself, with support from locum doctors.

At the other end of the scale Fleggburgh Surgery in Gorleston has the equivalent of only 955 patients for each of its two GPs.

The average number of patients per practice in the county is 2,127, very close to the England national average of 2,263, but those averages mask the often sizeable disparities between one practice and another.

Fleggburgh is the only one of 104 GP practices in Norfolk and Waveney to average fewer than 1,000 patients per GP - most have between 1,500 and 3,500. 

Watton Medical Practice.

Watton Medical Practice. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Six have more than 4,000 - Watton Medical Practice in Thetford, High Street Surgery in Lowestoft, Cutlers Hill Surgery in Halesworth and Beaches Medical Centre in Gorleston, as well as St John’s and Elmham.

Surgeries with less than one FTE GP have been excluded from the list.

Fran Whymark sits on Rackheath Parish Council, Broadland District Council and Norfolk County Council, and has spent years watching new housing developments increase the populations of towns and villages without accompanying medical facilities. 

He said: “Trying to get an appointment at my surgery can be very difficult, that’s why I’ve been advocating for infrastructure for so many years.

“Rackheath like so many towns in Norfolk is growing, for 10 years it’s been on the cards we’d have major development. So since that time I’ve been advocating for the infrastructure that we need."

Fran Whymark, Broadland District Councillor

Fran Whymark, Broadland District Councillor - Credit: Archant

He is in favour of a plan currently under consideration there, for 130 new homes and a medical centre.

He said: “I think a lot of developers are quite prepared to offer the space for surgeries, but it’s not them who deliver it, that’s the crux of it.

“They can put the land there but the NHS have to agree to commission the building, and get then get the GPs to go in there and run the surgery. It’s convoluted and very difficult.

“And GPs are self employed, so that’s an additional level of complication. If only it were straightforward we’d have plenty of GP surgeries.

“It’s easy to blame developers but it’s not as simple as that.”

Norfolk also has one of the biggest surgeries in the county - Vida Healthcare in King’s Lynn, which has more than 31,000 patients, placing it 57th out of England’s 6,545 surgeries, well within the top one percent.

When we called at 11.30am, an automated message announced our call was 19th in the queue. It would take a further 36 minutes before the call was answered.

A recorded message at Elmham surgery said doctors were self-isolating on Wednesday and therefore only offering limited clinics. He advised patients to describe their symptoms to “trained and trusted” receptionists who would direct them to an appropriate clinician.

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The figures show the postcode lottery of GP appointment availability across Norfolk and Waveney. - Credit: PA

A spokesperson for NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said: “The CCG continues to work hard to support GPs and there are a number of national and local recruitment, retention and support schemes in place.

"We have 17 primary care networks (PCNs) serving Norfolk and Waveney, offering patients more convenient access to treatment and support from a variety of health, care and other professionals. These figures don’t include the primary care support staff such as nurses, health care assistants, counsellors and pharmacists who also help meet the needs of patients."

They said GP practices do a "brilliant job", with the primary care network seeing thousands of patients a week, including via online and video appointments.

"GP practices have never been busier and they continue to be there for patients, when they need it," they said.

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