Hunt for three million 'ghost' patients

patients in a waiting room Image copyright SPL

As many as three million "ghost" patients registered with GP practices in England should be removed from doctors' lists, latest figures suggest.

As of March 2016, there were just over 57 million patients on GPs' books.

But official census data suggests the correct figure should be about 54 million.

NHS Digital says some of the discrepancy is because patients who have died or left the country have not been removed from GP lists.

NHS England has already announced new rules to find and remove these "ghost" patients.

List cleansing

It is unclear how many patients are incorrectly registered - some "ghosts" may be genuine patients who did not fill out the 2011 Census, for example.

But any true "ghosts" divert NHS cash inequitably.

GPs are paid a basic amount for each patient they have registered on their list - even if they do not see them.

It can vary from place to place, but in 2013-14 it was worth £136 per patient on average.

A private company, Capita, has been hired by the NHS to carry out the checks and list cleansing.

Patients will be sent letters when they have not seen their GP for five years.

If they fail to respond, a second letter will be sent. And if that is not answered, the patient will be deregistered.

A patient then wanting to get back on a list would have to reapply through the normal process.

Some doctors have expressed concerns about the plan, saying the letters could anger patients, who might feel punished for being well.

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