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Leaders warn 600 GP practices could close by 2020

UK could have 10,000 GP shortfall by end of decade, says RCGP

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 19 September 2016

Around 600 GP practices could close by 2020 if nothing is done to stop the current “chronic” shortage of GPs, according to the RCGP.

The college has today issued a stark warning that patient safety in general practice could be at risk as a result of shortages of GPs.

It has calculated that 594 practices across the UK are at risk of closure by 2020 if more family doctors are not recruited. The closures were due to the shortfall of GPs, as practices that were exclusively or largely run by family doctors aged 55 or over were at risk of closure because of the prevalence of early retirement.

As the population grew in size and increased in age, there was a growing shortfall in the number of full time equivalent GPs, argued the college, which estimated the total shortfall of GPs would stand at 9,941 by 2020 broken down as:

  • England will have a deficit of 8,371 GPs
  • Scotland will have a deficit of 830 GPs
  • Wales will have a deficit of 424 GPs
  • Northern Ireland will have a deficit of 316 GPs.

In response, the college is today launching a new video and guide called Think GP, which aim to help recruit thousands of additional foundation doctors, medical students and sixth form students into a career in general practice.

It hopes that the video and guide will “explode the myth” perpetuated by TV programmes like Casualty, Holby City and 24 Hours in A&E that only doctors who work in hospital settings have an exciting and challenging role.

The intention is also to change the view that the role of a GP is somehow run-of-the-mill, with family doctors simply treating coughs and colds.

The video and guide are said to highlight the fact that GPs are expert medical generalists who have to be able to treat whatever conditions their patients present with and that they are the only doctors who look after whole communities, looking after their patients throughout their lives.

The Think GP products also show how the role of the GP is radically changing, with GP practices increasingly working together in federations, merging into super practices and GPs leading larger teams of doctors and other health workers.

The video and guide are the latest in a series of GP recruitment initiatives organised by the college, including regional roadshows, in partnership with Health Education England, and working with GP Societies in UK universities.

In April, NHS England announced a plan to increase resources going into general practice, with a target of expanding the GP workforce by 5,000 additional doctors and 5,000 other members of the team by 2020.

The RCGP is trying to encourage the governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to come up with similar plans to boost their GP workforces.

Dr Maureen Baker, RCGP chair, said: “It is imperative that we recruit huge numbers of medical students and foundation doctors into general practice in order to keep the NHS on its feet. If we fail, there will be too few GPs to go round, practices will close, and patient safety in general practice will clearly be at risk.”

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