Scores of surgeries close as 350,000 patients lose their GP

Around 350,000 patients have lost their GP following the closure of almost 100 surgeries in the last year, research suggests. 

Around one in five closures were due to branches merging with others nearby, but many were due to practices closing altogether.

Data obtained by Pulse magazine under Freedom of Information laws shows that 99 GP surgeries closed across the UK in 2019. This was down from 138 the year before, but up on the18 closures recorded in 2013 by Pulse, a monthly news magazine distributed to GPs. 

The magazine estimates that 350,000 patients were forced to move to a new surgery. Its data suggests London had 18 closures in 2019, affecting an estimated 61,000 patients, with previous research suggesting over a hundred had closed in 2017. 

Dr Michelle Drage, the chief executive of Londonwide Local Medical Committees, said staff vacancies and doctors approaching retirement were also having an impact.

She said: “Throughout this time we have consistently found that one third of practices are carrying GP vacancies and two fifths have impending retirements. The workforce crisis that threatens the stability of so many London practices is not going away.

“The coronavirus response poses new threats to viability, with infection-control measures and increased demand further stretching resources, and a lack of full reimbursement of pandemic-related expenses squeezing finances.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, the BMA GP committee chairman, said: “England lost almost 1,000 full-time GP partners between 2018 and 2019 so, whilst worrying, it’s sadly not surprising that practices closed or merged over the same period.

“We have a workforce crisis making an impact long before the pandemic – unsustainable workload, mounting bureaucracy and historical under-resourcing are behind these changes, and the impact of these pressures on patients is grave.

“With a second spike in Covid-19 now a reality, alongside traditional winter pressures and a significantly ramped up flu campaign, doctors need guarantees from the Government that they will get all the resources and support they need to provide the care their patients deserve.”

A spokesman for NHS England said: “While this represents a very small proportion of practices, in some cases surgeries have merged with a nearby practice and in other cases a partner may have retired.

“The expansion of primary care networks is ensuring greater availability of the right kind of appointment for patients – whether face to face or remote – and support for constituent practices.”

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