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17.07.17

RCGP points to ‘huge problem’ as over 200 GPs closed or merged last year

Only eight GP practices were open last year in England, whilst 202 were either closed or merged, figures released by NHS Digital have shown.

In the period between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017, it was also revealed that almost half (47%) of CCGs had seen practice closures or mergers in their area.

The fresh figures have sparked concern from doctors, who argue that the numbers could show a trend of GPs being forced into closure as they struggle to cope with rising demand.

Chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: “It’s not clear with these figures why practices have closed – some may have merged, and others may have closed as a result of working ‘at scale’, which can bring benefits for patients through pooling resources to provide additional services or better appointment access.”

However, the RCGP lead also conceded that NHS Digital’s statistics could be symptomatic of deeper problems within general practice.  

“But this won’t always be the case and when practices are being forced to close because GPs and their teams can no longer cope with ever-growing patient demand without the necessary funding and resources, it’s a huge problem,” she added.

“And when practices are being forced to lock up and hand back the keys to their surgery because they can’t recruit enough GPs or practice staff, it will have severe consequences for our patients and the wider NHS.”

Prof Stokes-Lampard also pointed out that GPs are the “lifeblood of our local communities” and that the complete closure of any practice should always be a last resort when all other options have proved unworkable. 

“More research into why practices are closing would be really useful – but ultimately, we need the pledges in NHS England’s GP Forward View, including £2.4bn extra a year for general practice and 5,000 more full-time equivalent GPs by 2020, to be implemented in full and as a matter of urgency,” she concluded.

Today’s news follows warnings from the RCGP that more needs to be done to shorten waiting times for patients at GPs, which looked set to increase rapidly.

Top Image: Anthony Devlin

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