Dozens of practices closed last year as doctors retired or quit general practice, according to an analysis published today.
One estimate suggested that numbers of closures reached a record high – with 138 practices ceasing to exist. NHS England said there were more than 100 closures – and said that other practices had disappeared into mergers.
The number of 138 was obtained by Pulse magazine through Freedom of Information requests to clinical commissioning groups. This showed that 86% of closures involved practices with fewer than 5,000 patients. The responses suggested that 31 closures involved mergers.
NHS England said there were 179 GP contracts cancelled in the year from 2017-18. It said 62% of these involved mergers and the remainder led to practice closures.
Dr Alan Woodall, chair of the pressure group GP Survival, quoted in The Guardian, said the merger of practices was “a sticking-plaster solution” that was often used as a cover for the closure of branches.
The Guardian quotes a GP called “Philip” from Manchester, who said: “You couldn’t see the wood for the trees. It was like being on a hamster wheel. I told my partner I’d had enough and I was going to leave and he said he’d go too. We gave the staff six months’ notice and we walked away.”
British Medical Association GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: “These figures clearly show the increased pressure that practices have been experiencing over the last decade; as workload mounts, more doctors leave and surgeries struggle to recruit new staff.
“While there are a number of reasons why practices may close or merge – including when private providers hand back short-term contracts or realise that practices may not be financially viable – ongoing pressures will likely have played a significant role.”
Royal College of GPs chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: “These figures are sad but, unfortunately, not surprising. GPs and our teams are working to our absolute limits to provide safe, high-quality care, while general practice is under intense pressure, and this is resulting in some GPs leaving the profession, and in other cases forcing them to close their surgery doors.
“When a practice closes because resource and workforce pressures mean that it is no longer safe or sustainable to keep running, it’s incredibly serious – and heart-breaking for everyone involved, especially those patients who have to travel long distances to their new surgery and get to know new teams.”