In response to a written question from Valerie Vaz MP in 2013, health minister Norman Lamb revealed that in 2012 there were more than 55.7 million general practitioner registered patients in England, 104.2 per cent of the population. These 'ghost patients' are individuals who are registered at their local surgery but for one reason or another shouldn't be on those books - for example if they've changed surgery or moved overseas.
By 2016 very little had changed - but this year it looks like NHS England are finally getting round to tackling the problem.
A new scheme will see Capita attempting to contact any patients who haven't been in touch with the surgery for 5 years and removing those who don't reply within 6 months. Currently a surgery receives a sum of money for each patient it has registered, the average is currently reported at £136 per patient, so cutting down on these payments will free up money that can be used elsewhere.
In our 2015 Spending Plan we identified £147 million worth of savings that could be made by doing exactly this, and some estimates put the proposed savings even higher, so it's great to see NHS England and Capita taking steps towards cutting these costs.
As we noted previously it would be unreasonable to expect the number of registered patients to exactly match the population at any given point in time, but introducing a system which brings the number of "ghost patients" down to 101 per cent of the population is both achievable and desirable.