Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

List sizes and use of time in general practice.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987; 295 doi: (Published 28 November 1987) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1987;295:1383
  1. J R Butler,
  2. M W Calnan
  1. Health Services Research Unit, University of Kent, Canterbury.


    The claim that list sizes in general practice should continue to fall towards a national average of 1700 patients rests heavily on the assumption that the extra time available to doctors would be used mainly for longer consultations, resulting in better standards of care. Evidence suggests, however, that the time is more likely to be used to increase rates of consultation in surgeries and home visits and to reduce the length of the working week. A national, random sample of 2104 principals in general practice in England and Wales were questioned about their allocation and use of time. The response rate was 67%, and no large biases in response were detected. The smaller their personal list size the less time general practitioners spent on all aspects of their work and the higher their rates of consultation and home visiting. The effects of further reductions in list sizes would be haphazard, being differentially distributed across the range of list sizes. Longer consultations would probably result, but most of the extra time would probably be used in higher rates of consultation in surgeries and home visits and some would be taken as free time.