GP leaders are warning that more than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP practice close in the next five years because of the high number of family doctors at risk of leaving the profession.
The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) says the closures would have a “catastrophic” effect on patient care.
Without urgent investment, 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years because they are relying on a workforce where three-quarters of GPs are aged over 55 and thus nearing retirement age.
This relates to an estimated 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland, it said.
To remedy the situation, the College urges “drastic action” to address workload pressures, which, it warns, are making a career in general practice “untenable”.
It also calls for more initiatives aimed at increasing retention of the GP workforce, and extra funds of £2.5 billion a by 2020/21 under a “radical overhaul” of NHS England’s GP Forward View that should form part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS.
“These new figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK,” said RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.
“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.”
She went on to warn that “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.”
Earlier this year, NHS England announced a new initiative to help retain GPs in the shape of a £10 million fund designed to capture those considering leaving general practice.
Under the plans, £7 million will be streamed through regional-based schemes designed to help GPs to remain in the workforce, by promoting new ways of working and by offering additional support through a new Local GP Retention Fund.
An additional £3 million will underpin the establishment of seven intensive support sites across the country in areas that have struggled most to retain GPs, with further details on this to be announced next month, NHS England said.
Other initiatives to boost the GP workforce include providing more training places and an international programme to recruit 2,000 GPs by 2020.
However, research conducted for the RCGP by Ipsos MORI last year revealed that 39% of its members thought they are unlikely to be working in the profession in England in five years’ time, highlighting the huge scale of the problem.