HUNDREDS of patients have registered at GP practices in north Essex since January, new figures have revealed.

NHS England data shows 359,571 patients were registered at practices in the North East Essex Clinical Commissioning Group area on March 1.

The number has increased by 311 since the start of the year, when there were 359,260 patients spread between 146 GPs.

But while the number of patients continues to rise each month, different NHS figures show the number of full-time equivalent GPs in north east Essex is falling. Over the course of 2019, 17 fewer GPs took on 3,920 more patients.

It means the average GP now has around 2,463 patients, compared to 2,180 at the start of last year.

The figures include partners, registrars and salaried GPs as well as locum and retained GPs, but not other practice staff.

Across England, 60.4 million patients were registered at GP practices at the start of March.

The Royal College of GPs has warned “valuable GP time must be spent on the frontline” during the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak, with patient numbers expected to surge over the coming weeks.

Prof Martin Marshall, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Even in the face of the outbreak, primary care teams are still seeing more than one million non-coronavirus related patients a day.

“Most patients are, understandably, seeking advice and reassurance from their GPs about Covid-19 during routine appointments and this is already having an impact on GPs’ time.

“New primary care working arrangements, such as telephone triage and video consultations, will help, but remote consultations will not suit every patient.

“It’s inevitable that pressures and patient numbers will grow over the next coming week, and possibly months, as the situation develops.”

A spokesman for the CCG, said: “This is undoubtedly a very busy time for our NHS staff, who are working hard and doing their very best.

“We urge local people to support them.

“They can do this by always firstly visiting NHS 111 online if they have any concerns around coronavirus, and for any other non-urgent appointments to always call their GP practice rather than visiting in person.”