The Lancet did not report 6.5 million migrants registered at GPs in the last decade

30 May 2023
What was claimed

The Lancet says that 6.5 million migrants have registered with GPs in the last 10 years.

Our verdict

This information did not come from the Lancet. According to the ONS, that’s how many new GP registrations there were in England and Wales between 2007 and 2017 where the person’s previous address was abroad. Migrants who moved between homes in the UK may have been double counted and we don’t know how many were only here short-term.

An image posted on Facebook claims that according to the Lancet medical journal, 6.5 million migrants have registered with GPs in the last 10 years.

The picture said: “Fact: from The Lancet, 6.5 million migrants have registered with GPs in the last 10 years.That’s where the NHS crisis is.”

The formatting and text exactly matches a claim we wrote about in 2019 which was shared thousands of times. It is also similar to another claim we fact-checked later that year. The most recent post was shared in May 2023.

The figure doesn’t come from the Lancet, it comes from data collected by NHS Digital and published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). We explain where the confusion might have come from in our previous check.

The 6.5 million figure was broadly correct when we checked it before, looking at the number of GP registrations between 2007/08 and 2016/17 where the person’s previous address was probably outside the UK. There were a little under 6.5 million GP registrations in England and Wales during this period (it was just over that when including Northern Ireland while figures for Scotland are not available).

These were the latest figures available when the two older claims were posted on Facebook, but newer data has been published covering 2010/11 to 2019/20. This shows that there were around 6.9 million new migrant GP registrations over this period across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So while the figures were correct when we first saw versions of this post, newer figures for “the last ten years” are slightly higher.

But this is not a very good way of measuring how much the population has grown because of immigration.

For part of the period it covers, this measurement could have double counted some immigrants who registered at one GP, moved homes within England and Wales, and then registered at another. But NHS Digital, which collects the figures, told us in 2019 it doesn’t know the extent of that double counting.

NHS Digital also told us that until 2016, if a UK citizen had left the UK for more than three months then came back and registered with a new GP in England and Wales, they would also be counted more than once.

The figure also doesn’t factor in how many of these registrations will be from people who only stayed for a short period. Short term migration is defined as between a three and 12 month stay for work or study.

Data presented without context or caveats can give an incomplete or misleading picture. This can harm democracy by distorting people’s understanding of what is happening to key political issues such as the NHS and immigration. All of us can do something about this problem by taking time to look at such claims critically and checking the source of information, so that we do not share misinformation online. 

Image courtesy of Hush Naidoo Jade Photography.

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