Soaring GP practice closures can have 'serious effects' for patients and staff

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has argued that latest figures showing an alarming rate of GP closures will have serious effects on local patient populations, neighbouring surgeries, and the wellbeing of GPs involved.

The findings, uncovered by Pulse, found that 1.3 million patients in the UK have had to change GPs over the past five years due to increasing practice closures. Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 445 GP practices were forced to close due to closures or mergers.

The figures are the latest that highlight a series of problems with recruitment and retention of GPs, with coastal and rural towns being the most affected. Earlier this month continuity of care levels tumbled by 30% as GPs cite “intense pressures,” largely due to a significant lack of funding from central government.

Responding to the new figures, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: “Sometimes, a closure is due to a practice merging, or becoming part of a federation, so that it can pool resources in the best interests of patient care.

“But when it is because the practice team simply can’t cope with the resource and workforce pressures they are facing, it’s a serious failure of the system.

“Whether it’s in Plymouth, Brighton, Folkestone, or anywhere else in the UK, a GP practice closing can have serious ramifications for the patient population it served, neighbouring surgeries, the health and wellbeing of the GPs involved.”

Stokes-Lampard added that GPs handing their contract back to the NHS is “becoming increasingly common up and down the country,” particularly in rural and other areas where they are finding it difficult to retain and recruit GPs.

“For those living in rural areas,” she continued, “this can mean having to travel long distances to get to their nearest surgery and is a particular worry for those who might not drive and have to rely on public transport.”

Yesterday NHS England announced it would introduce a £10m fund in an effort to prevent GPs from leaving the profession. In February, NHS Digital figures found that the number of family doctors fell to 33,872 in December from 34,091 in September. Research from the University of Exeter found that GPs felt undervalued and concerned about professional risk in delivering care in an increasingly complex health environment.

“The college, for several years, has consistently highlighted the pressures facing general practice, and the impact they are having on patient care, and the wellbeing of GPs and our teams, and we are frustrated at the slow pace of change,” commented Stokes-Lampard.

“That’s why we urgently need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View, which promises an extra £2.4bn a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, delivered, in full.”

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Image credit: ijeab, iStock images


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