Is continuity of primary care declining in England? Practice-level longitudinal study, 2012-2017

Peter Tammes*, Richard W Morris, C Murphy, Chris Salisbury

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: Continuity of care is a core principle of primary care and related to improved patient outcomes and reduced healthcare costs. Evidence suggests continuity of care is declining.

Aim: (i) to confirm reports of declining continuity of care, (ii) to explore differences in decline according to practice characteristics, (iii) to examine associations between practice populations or appointment provision and changes in continuity of care.

Design and Setting: Longitudinal study of aggregated practice-level data from repeated questions in GP-Patient surveys between 2012-2017 on having a preferred GP, seeing this GP always/often (usually), appointment system and practice population characteristics, linked to rural/urban location and deprivation.

Method: Multilevel modelling; time (level-1) and practices (level-2).

Results: 56.7% of patients had a preferred GP in 2012, declining by 9.4%-points (95%CI -9.6 to -9.2) by 2017. 66.4% of patients with a preferred GP saw this GP usually in 2012, which declined by 9.7%-points (95%CI -10.0 to -9.4) by 2017. This decline was visible in all types of practices, irrespective of baseline continuity, rural/urban location, or deprivation. At practice-level, an increase over time in the percentage of patients reporting good overall experience of making appointments was associated with an increase in both the percentage of patients having a preferred GP, and the percentage of patients being able to see that GP usually.

Conclusion: Patients reported a steady decline in continuity of care over time, which should concern clinicians and policymakers. The ability of practices to offer patients a satisfactorily working appointment system could partly counteract this decline.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Early online date14 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Dec 2020


  • continuity of care
  • preferred GP
  • primary care
  • GP-patient survey
  • multilevel model
  • longitudinal study

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