24,000 patients forced to move to new GP due to practice closures
More than 24,000 patients in North Wales have had to move to another GP because their practice closed down in the last five years, figures show.
This comes after a Pulse investigation earlier this year revealed that 1.3m patients have been displaced across the UK since 2013 as a result of practice closures and mergers.
However, GP leaders in Wales said these figures did not reveal the full picture as 'there are many more practices on the brink'.
This comes as a decision is imminent on four practices in Wrexham, which may be able to return to independent contractor status after having been run by the health board.
A freedom of information request submitted by the Daily Post to Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board revealed that since 2013, 27 practices have closed in North Wales – 10 main practices and 17 branch practices.
As a result of the closures, 24,139 patients were forced to find a new GP, including 4,467 patients in last year alone.
While the health board said the majority of the closed practices in North Wales were as a result of practice mergers, they said numbers of displaced patients do not necessarily include those where a branch practice closed - meaning all 24,000 had to reregister with a new practice.
However, Dr Eamonn Jessup, treasurer of North Wales LMC and a locum GP, said the figures do not show extent of the disruption to patients as many more practices have returned their contracts and are now run by the health board.
He said: ‘We seem to be in a quiet phase at the moment but there are still many more practices on the brink.’
He added they were running out of solutions and the limited pool of doctors are moving around practices trying to compete for staff making the situation a ‘moveable feast’.
Dr Jessup said: ‘The easy answer would be for more support from the health board but to a certain extent their hands are tied too because they haven’t got a magic supply of doctors.
‘I’m a little bit out of ideas. The solution is going to have to be really innovative.’
Analysis from the BMA earlier this year warned 70 practices in Wales were at risk of being forced to close.
This comes as a an imminent decision is also due on four practices in Wrexham, which have been put out to tender and may be able to return to GMS status from being run by the health board.
Dr Jessup said: 'We’re waiting to see, but the news story won’t be that they have got the tender but that the tender works.'
Wrexham was one of several areas Pulse highlighted for being on the brink of collapse after two practices shut their doors within a year up to last June.
A spokesperson for Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board said: 'Recruitment of GPs is an ongoing challenge due to an unprecedented shortage of GPs nationally.
'We continue to do everything we can to recruit salaried, permanent GPs including advertisements which are currently open and dedicated recruitment events to showcase opportunities within primary care in North Wales.'
The Welsh Government announced plans to train new doctors in community-based medical places in North Wales earlier this year to try to attract GPs to the area.