Health leaders condemn lack of funds for ‘crisis in general practice’

Health leaders have hit out at the government after it was revealed that a record number of GP practices had been forced to close last year and that the number of patients changing GPs had risen by 150%.

The figures, revealed through a Freedom of Information request by Pulse, revealed that 57 practices closed in 2016, with a further 34 shutting down due to practice mergers.

The revelation follows figures released by NHS Digital that showed a similar trend, with the number of GPs in England dropping by over 400 from March to September in 2016 – despite NHS England’s pledge to have 5,000 more GPs in place by 2020.

The BMA’s GP committee deputy chair, Dr Richard Vautrey, argued that the rise in patients having to change GP was an example of the “crisis in general practice” affecting patients across the country.

“Despite repeated and clear warnings by the BMA, a decade of underinvestment, and failure by successive governments to take the growing workload and workforce crisis seriously, has led to this situation,” he warned.

“Even now, despite commitments to address this, practices are facing unacceptable and unjustified rises in premises charges which could be the last straw for some GPs and practices.

“We urgently need a step change in action to resolve the crisis in general practice before even more patients are impacted and more communities lose their much-loved GP service.”

And the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said that the new figures should make for worrying reading for NHS officials.

“GP practices are the lifeblood of our local communities,” she added. “The complete closure of any practice will always be a last resort when all other options have proved unworkable.”

But too many practices are being forced to close because GPs and their teams cannot cope with growing patient demand without extra funding or enough staff, Stokes-Lampard explained.

“This has serious consequences for patient safety and the wellbeing of hard working family doctors and their practice teams,” she continued.

“Of course, this is not true of every case and practices might decide to merge in order to pool their resources to provide additional services or better appointment access which is in the best interests of patients.”

However, it is crucial that mergers are done in a way that causes minimal disruption to the services being delivered, particularly in remote and rural areas, the RCGP chair stated.
NHS England’s GP Forward View could be a lifeline for our profession after years of declining investment and a workforce that has not risen in step with patient demand,” added Stokes-Lampard.

“However, the college’s interim assessment in January found that while progress is being made nationally, support is not reaching GPs at the frontline of patient care. It would seem that today’s findings back this up.”

She concluded by saying that although the £40m resilience fund made available to help practices stay afloat is welcome, work needed to be done to get through the ‘red tape’ that makes it hard for doctors to directly access the much-needed funds.

“The college will continue to work closely with NHS England and others to ensure that all pledges in the GP Forward View – including the resilience programme – are implemented effectively in the best interests of general practice, the wider NHS and patients,” she finished.

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