GPS in the North-East had to carry out an extra 174,000 appointments in the first three months of the year – as pressure on the NHS rises.

Family doctors in the region saw a surge in demand in 2019, completing 1.92 million appointments in January to March. That is up from 1.75 million in the same three months in 2018.

It equates to nearly 2,000 extra appointments a day, on average, fuelled by government demands for a “round-the-clock” GP service. The figures – released by NHS Digital – show that while 1.55 million of the appointments in January-March 2019 were face-to-face, a further 324,222 took place on the phone. Some 8,641 were home visits while 22,072 were video or online calls. The figures came on the day a separate report showed the first sustained fall in GP numbers across the UK for half a century. Analysis by the Nuffield Trust found the country now has 60 GPs for every 100,000 people – down from 65 for every 100,000 in 2014.

The Trust has calculated the UK would need 3,500 more GPs to get the NHS back to where it was five years ago.

Dr George Rae, chairman of the North East British Medical Association, said the appointment figures show the region’s GPs are working hard for their patients. “It's good news for patients,” he said. “They are getting more appointments at a time there is huge problems with recruiting GPs.

“That is good news for patients and its showing that despite the fact there is a dearth of GPs in the North-East they are trying to be innovative in the way they give additional appointments.”

Dr Rae, who works in Whitley Bay, described the efforts made to make sure that patients are able to see a GP. “Some partnerships are open until 8pm on certain days and on Tuesday I started at 7am so by 8.15am I’ve already seen nine patients," he said.

“A lot of partnerships are doing extended access, you’re not necessarily seeing your family doctor but the GP you are seeing is hooked up to your individual record.

“There’s a lot of goodwill from GP’s, and I don’t mean that arrogantly, GPs are trying to say ‘look we still have to do the best we can for patients’.”

Dr Rae also spoke out against the problems faced by GPs. He said: “Over work would happen in any walk of life but there are natural human consequences of having to do too much. “Against a background of people living longer and ending up with more chronic conditions, cases are more complex then they were.”