GPs ‘funded for non-existent ghost patients’

So-called ghost patients could still be registered with GPs surgeries.
So-called ghost patients could still be registered with GPs surgeries.

Doctors’ surgeries in Scarborough and Ryedale have thousands of patients on their registers who may be dead or have left the area, according to analysis of NHS figures.

So-called ghost patients are a serious problem for the NHS, as the money allocated to surgeries is linked to the number of patients on their books.

The most recent estimate for the population of Scarborough and Ryedale CCG, which is in charge of commissioning healthcare services in the area, is 111,353 – but there were 120,648 patients registered with GP surgeries in the area last month.

This means up to 9,300 of these could be ghost patients, or 7.7% of all those registered.

The Office for National Statistics last updated its population estimates in mid 2016, so it is possible that population growth may account for some ghost patients. But analysis of ONS figures shows that, between 2011 and 2016, the population grew by 0.2% on average each year, so it is unlikely this accounts for all extra patients.

GP surgeries receive funding based on the number of people they have registered, which is then weighted to take into account key patient demographics like gender, age and disability.

Scarborough and Ryedale CCG was allocated £22.51 million from the NHS based on the number of registered patients in the 2016-2017 financial year. NHS figures show this was an average amount per patient of £188.86.

The health service has found no evidence that doctors are deliberately inflating patient numbers and blames poor record keeping for the number of ghost patients.

The NHS has been concerned about ghost patients for some time, and in 2016, it hired private company Capita to clear non-existent patients from GPs’ registers. The firm has written to patients who have not contacted their practice within five years, as this could be an indicator that the patient has moved away.

NHS England says it factors ghost patients into its budget allocations. A spokesman said: “GP practices work hard to keep their registered patient lists as accurate as possible and NHS England is working with Capita and GP surgeries to transform this process, make it digital and any savings identified will be ploughed back into the NHS.”