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Several hundred GP practice closures warning

College fears 762 practices could close in five years

Adrian O'Dowd

Friday, 28 September 2018

As many as 762 GP practices across the UK could close in the next five years, according to details released today of an analysis carried out by the RCGP.

The college has analysed NHS Digital figures on GP numbers and concluded that around 2.5m patients across England alone could see their GP practices closed within five years.

This is due to the high numbers of GPs at risk of leaving the profession and if this comes to pass, it would have what the college describes as a “catastrophic” effect on patient care.

Drastic action was needed to address the workload pressures that were making a career in general practice untenable, argued the college, as well as more initiatives to be implemented to increase retention of the GP workforce.

It has called for an additional £2.5bn a year for general practice by 2020-21 as part of a “radical overhaul” of NHS England’s GP Forward View, to be funded as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS, announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year.

Without investment, the RCGP said it feared 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years because they were reliant on a workforce where three quarters of GPs were aged over 55 and therefore, approaching retirement age.

Broken down by nation, this would affect an estimated 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland.

In England, 2.5m patients could see their practice close, with the five worst-affected CCG areas being Sandwell and West Birmingham (85,105 patients), Medway (52,330), Havering (49,761), Ealing (46,909) and Wigan Borough (43,640).

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “These new figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK.

“GPs will always work their hardest to try to keep practices open, but the harsh reality is that fantastic, caring GPs are burning out, working in conditions that are unsafe for their own health and that of their patients.

“Workload in general practice is escalating, both in volume and complexity, yet the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago – and our workforce is actually decreasing. As a result, many GPs are bringing forward their retirement plans because the pressures they are working under are untenable.

“If these GPs do leave, and these practices do close, it will have a catastrophic impact on our profession and the patient care we are able to provide.”

There were more GPs in training than ever before, she acknowledged, but if more GPs left the profession than entered, it was a losing battle.

“Decision makers need to think long and hard about how we can retain the GP workforce, and the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS – funded by the extra £20.5bn a year announced earlier this year – is the ideal opportunity to do so.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said: “These forecasts only stack up if you presume no new doctors or health professionals will start work in general practice in the future.

“In reality, the NHS is spending an extra £2.4bn on general practice by 2020 and training more GPs than ever before.”

There were currently 3,019 GPs in training – a 10% increase on last year and Health Education England was confident it would hit the target of 3,250 for 2018, he added. In addition, a further 294 GPs were being supported on the GP retention scheme as of the end of June 2018.

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