There are warnings that general practice in England is on the verge of collapse as an investigation by the BBC reveals a growing number of practices are being forced to close their doors to new patients because of “immense pressures”.
A Freedom of Information Act request by BBC investigators revealed that, during 2014/15, at least 100 surgeries asked NHS England if they could close their patient lists, and that, in 56% of cases, permission to do so was granted.
Commenting on the findings, Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said many surgeries were no longer able to cope with a lack of resources and intense demand, and so were having to close patients lists to help safeguard patient safety.
“As this BBC investigation shows, general practice across England is under unprecedented pressure. In this environment, many GPs are buckling under the pressure and stopping or reducing their work owing to stress — a situation which is not only deeply upsetting for the individuals involved, but is further diminishing the capacity of GP services.”
“Unfortunately what we are seeing is a sad consequence of plummeting resources in general practice and a desperate shortage of GPs, with family doctors struggling to cope with rocketing patient demand, due to a growing and ageing population,” noted Helen Stokes-Lampard, Honorary Treasurer of the Royal College of GPs. “This situation is leaving general practice on the brink of collapse and it is patients who are losing out”.
“To ensure patients can get the level of service they deserve, we urgently need to "recruit, retain and return" thousands more GPs. That is why we are calling on the four governments of the UK to increase general practice funding to 11% of the total NHS budget over the course of this Parliament,” she stressed.
Nagpaul also agrees that the government needs to undertake urgent action to address the growing crisis of recruitment and resources. “With more than 600 GP trainee posts left vacant in 2015 and [according to a BMA survey] a third of the existing workforce considering retirement in the next five years, there are signs this crisis is likely to worsen this year”, he noted.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said the news “is very worrying for patients, who we know are already struggling to access primary care services”.
“When primary care services cannot cope with patient demand, many end up going to A&E unnecessarily, adding to the strain on acute and emergency services,” she warned, and also called on the government to provide greater investment across primary care.
NHS England is reportedly investing around £15 million into expanding the workforce.