NHS crisis forces 500,000 patients to find new GP after mass surgery closures

Surgery closures have left a record 519,000 patients needing to move to new GP clinics, figures show.

Experts blame NHS cuts and a shortage of family doctors.

One said: “These closures could leave patients facing long waits, and push more to A&E.”

Last year, a record 519,000 patients had to switch to another surgery because theirs had shut, figures show.

Data released from Clinical Commissioning Groups revealed 138 GP buildings closed across the UK – increasing more than seven-fold since 2013.

Many practices merged with others after their base was shut, affecting 161,126 patients.

Experts blamed NHS cuts and an exodus of family doctors struggling to cope with the growing workload.

Dr Jackie Applebee, a GP in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, said: “The system is creaking. Smaller practices are being lost because of under-resourcing.”

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Chief executive of the Patients Association Rachel Power added: “Patients will be right to feel alarmed by these findings. Many may be left wondering if their practice might be next to face closure.

“These closures and mergers appear to stem from the well-known, long-term failures in workforce ­planning and shortage of funding for the NHS in the face of rising patient need.

“These closures could leave patients facing long waits, and push more towards A&E, which we know is under severe pressure.”

The number of ­qualified GPs in England fell by 1.5% to 28,697 in March.

NHS England figures show there were 312 more family doctors – far short of the 5,000 extra the Tories pledged.

But once trainee ­registrars were removed from the data it revealed there were actually 441 fewer fully qualified GPs.

The CCGs data, released to GP magazine Pulse under Freedom of Information laws, showed 134 surgeries closed in 2017. In 2013, the figure was just 18.

Smaller clinics, those with 5,000 or fewer patients, were hit worst in 2018, accounting for 86% of closures.

Among those shutting their doors was the Nantyglo Medical Practice branch in Ebbw Vale, South Wales, leaving 10,305 patients having to switch GPs.

One in Clayton, West Sussex, closed, affecting 12,464 patients. The Gillies and Overbridge Medical ­Partnership in Hampshire shut and 19,120 patients needed to change surgeries.

The Brownhill Surgery in Chandler’s Ford, Hants, closed down in November 2017 because of a shortage of doctors, hitting 7,000 patients.

Local Lib Dem councillor Alan Broadhurst said last night: “Some of the patients have had to go to a surgery which was a couple of miles away by car.

“For older people who do not drive this has been a real problem for them, they couldn’t find a surgery within walking distance. They get hit the hardest.”

NHS England insisted: “Thousands of practices continue to be helped through the GP resilience programme, where investment has been increased from a planned £8million in 2019/20 to £13million.”

Shutdowns sad but not a shock

By Helen Stokes-Lampard, Royal College of GPs

It takes at least 10 years to train a family doctor from entering medical school, and we need more GPs now.

If more GPs are leaving the profession than entering it, we are fighting a losing battle.

We need to see initiatives being implemented to help retain our existing, experienced workforce and key to that will be addressing workload to make working in general practice more sustainable.

These figures are sad but, unfortunately, not surprising.

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, which is particularly difficult for the more vulnerable members of our communities and those who rely on public transport.

The last thing that GPs and our teams want to do is close their premises, and this course of action will only be considered once every other alternative has been ruled out.

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