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At the heart of general practice since 1960

One in ten single-handed practices closed this year

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: Single-handed GP practices are rapidly disappearing from the map, with one in 10 closing in the past year alone, Pulse can reveals.

Figures obtained from 50 PCTs show 56 singlehanded GPs went in that time, as PCTs merged practices or redistributed the lists of GPs who had retired.

Pulse's investigation follows outspoken criticism of singlehanders last week from health secretary Alan Johnson, who claimed ‘some don't even reach 1948 standards'.

If the figures are replicated nationally, it would mean the total number of single-handed providers had fallen by more than 200 in 12 months.

The number of singlehanders has been falling for several years, but the latest figures mark a sharp acceleration in their fall.

The most recent Information Centre figures show that in 2007 there were 2,125 single-partner practices, including those employing salaried GPs, down 4% from 2006. The number of singlehanded GPs with no salaried support also fell to 1,594, down 7% from 2006.

Some areas have seen particularly dramatic reductions.

Knowsley PCT has lost all five of its singlehanders thanks to development under the Fairness in Primary Care initiative, while a further five have disappeared in Medway. Trusts in Leeds, Redbridge and Dudley each reported losing four single-handed practices.

Many trusts told Pulse they were looking to phase out singlehanders, with one stating: ‘Following the Shipman case, sole practice will not be encouraged'.

But Dr Patrick Craig-McFeely, a single-handed GP from Hindon in Wiltshire, in October was presented with a national Diabetes QOF Award by none other than Mr Johnson, hit back at his ‘very metropolitan view'.

He criticised PCTs' ‘unthinking mindset' in consolidating practices: ‘I think they just get fed up of dealing with 62 practices when they could be dealing with 45.'

A Department of Health spokesperson said: ‘The Government has made clear that small and single-handed practices form an important part of primary care.'

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