The number of GP practices shutting their doors in England has risen to record highs, forcing more than a quarter of a million people to change their family doctor.
According to an investigation by Pulse, 57 practices closed last year while an additional 34 disappeared into practice mergers, meaning that, overall, 265,000 patients had to change their practice, which is 150 percent more than in 2014 and 15 precent more than in 2015.
This, it is feared, has interrupted continuity of care and left many patients with having to travel further to access services.
The investigation also revealed that some areas of the country took a particularly bad hit, such as Brighton, where seven practices have closed in the past two years, including four that together displaced a total of almost 9,000 patients.
In addition to rising demand and funding issues, the GP crisis is also being driven by a leap in the number of family doctors retiring early or switching to part time, with not enough being drawn into the profession at the other end of the scale to grow the workforce.
“Despite repeated and clear warnings by the British Medical Association, a decade of underinvestment, and failure by successive governments to take the growing workload and workforce crisis seriously, has led to this situation,” Pulse quotes BMA GP committee deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey as commenting on the findings.
“We urgently need a step change in action to resolve the crisis in general practice before even more patients are impacted and more communities lose their much loved GP service.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said too many 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 workforce to deal with it.
“NHS England’s GP Forward View could be a lifeline for our profession after years of declining investment and a workforce that has not risen in step with patient demand. However, the College’s interim assessment in January found that while progress is being made nationally, support is not reaching GPs at the frontline of patient care. It would seem that today’s findings back this up.”
However, a spokesman for NHS England told the media that the “figures as presented don't reflect the full picture as they include patients whose records automatically transfer after a merger and therefore don't have to change practice.
Also, “as part of our plans to improve general practice services and boost the workforce, many practices are choosing to merge in order to offer patients a much greater range of services,” he stressed.