DOCTORS in Bolton are working hard to drive down the number of "ghost patients" registered with GPs' surgeries.

Health chiefs say the problem is caused by a transient population of students, young professionals and residents failing to de-register with surgeries when they move.

Dr Wirin Bhatiani, chairman of the NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group, said regular "cleansing" exercises are needed to clear patient lists.

He added: “Our GP practices in Bolton continue to strive to keep their practice lists accurate and up to date.

“The Primary Care Trust, NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group’s predecessor organisation, regularly carried out ‘cleansing’ of GP practice lists, which helps to prevent GP list inflation.

“Following restructuring of the NHS last year, this is now the responsibility of NHS England. Patients are encouraged to inform and deregister from their practices when they move away or change to a different practice.”

It is not known how many ghost patients there are in Bolton, according to NHS England chiefs — who admit it is difficult to know which patients have left the area.

Dr David Geddes, NHS England’s head of primary care, said: “In the majority of cases, GP practices work hard to keep their registered patient lists as accurate as they can and our area teams are working closely with them to achieve this.

“One of the main issues they face is that patients often fail to notify practices when leaving the area or country and this can mean that so-called ‘ghost’ patients remain registered.

“It is really important that patients keep their GPs informed if they are changing practices or leaving the area so that their registration can be amended.

“There can also sometimes be a short time lapse between updating national practice systems when a patient registers with another surgery, which can result in duplication.

“All efforts are made to ensure this is resolved as soon as possible.”