THE number of GP appointments made in Bolton soared in March compared with the the previous month, according to data from NHS Digital.

Tens of thousands more appointments were recorded, with doctors carrying out 159, 504 appointments with patients at surgeries in the NHS Bolton CCG (clinical commissioning groups) area, 26,293 more than in February.

That was also 25,976 more than during the same month last year.

Demand soared at GP practices across England, with every CCG area in the country recording a significant uptick in activity.

Nationally, 28.4 million appointments were recorded in March – the highest monthly figure since October 2019.

It means doctors delivered 4.8 million more consultations than they did the month before.

NHS Digital estimated that around 1.2 million of the bookings were related to Covid-19 vaccinations.

Doctors' groups have warned that GPs could buckle under the pressure of "unsustainable" workloads as they juggle rising numbers of appointments with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.

Dr Ellen Welch, of the Doctors’ Association UK, said:“These figures confirm what GPs have been trying to communicate to the public for the last year, that GP practices never closed and we are in fact busier than ever.”

Despite this, she added, the group was still hearing reports that patients are finding it harder than ever to access care.

DAUK recently wrote a letter to the Health Secretary Matt Hancock demanding an urgent review into demand at GP practices, after it saw workloads “going through the roof”.

"We are yet to receive a reply to our letter to the Government about this,” Dr Welch added.

A recent survey by patients’ group Healthwatch England, which drew on patients’ experiences up to December, found many people were struggling to access care from their GP.

It also raised concerns that the rise in remote appointments during the pandemic was not meeting everyone’s needs.

In Bolton, 52per cent of appointments were carried out face to face in March, based on those for which the appointment type was recorded.

That was significantly down from 67per cent a year earlier, although NHS Digital said changes in how practices operate during the pandemic may have affected how appointments are recorded.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said GPs have played a vital role in the response to Covid-19, caring for vulnerable patients while administering a large proportion of vaccinations.

She added: “To help expand GP capacity, we have made available an additional £270 million of extra funding until September to ensure GPs are able to continue to support all patients.”

An NHS spokeswoman said there are now almost 440 more GPs than last year across England.