GPs are being paid millions of pounds to treat an estimated 2.5 million patients who do not exist.

Taxpayers are footing a bill of more than £162m every year to cover the fees given to the GP practices for having the "ghost" patients on their books. The figure was released by the Department of Health after an Audit Commission report identified more than 95,000 patients double-counted, died or wrongly listed for other reasons.

More than 34,000 were dead, with 157 dying before 1980 and one who died in 1969.

GPs are paid an average of £65 for each patient on their books.