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GP surgery numbers to be cut as part of major plans around sustainability

Local areas are proposing to reduce GP surgery numbers as part of significant long-term plans to make savings, it has emerged.

A  campaign group has uncovered a number of Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) – the blueprints for how services are going to be provided in 44 areas across England –  which detail plans for the future of general practice.

One area is proposing to reduce the numbers of GP practices, claiming that the current set-up will ”will over-stretch… workforce and finances’, while another is planning to cut GP workload by a third and significantly reducing patients’ face-to-face contact with primary care.

This month, Pulse reported that GPs were being ‘excluded’ from discussions over the plans, and in some instances have not even had sight of them before publication next month.

An investigation by campaign group 38 Degrees into the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) uncovered plans across the country.

They reveal a number of proposals specifically targeting general practice, including:

  • In Dorset, a plan for the sustainability of the local NHS suggests that a current 98 GP practices, operating at 135 sites, ‘will over-stretch’ local ‘workforce and finances’. It suggests that a ‘reduction in the number of sites’ would lead to a better provision of services ‘for more hours of the day and days of the week’;
  • In Hampshire and Isle of Wight, commissioners are planning to to make general practice more sustainable by cutting GP workload by almost a third, while also significantly reducing patients’ face-to-face contact with primary care.

NHS England, which has asked all areas what is their ‘plan for sustainable general practice and wider primary care’, said plans were not going to be put into action without ‘local engagement’.

It comes as Pulse revealed earlier this month that grassroots GPs have been left largely in the dark throughout the first six months of the planning process but NHS England said it would not approve any plan that does not support general practice. NHS England has said the plans will be finalised then published in full by October.

The STP for Dorset, seen by Pulse, said: ‘Our analysis work to date suggests that the current 98 GP practices delivering care in 135 sites will over-stretch our workforce and finances, and that a reduction in the number of sites would allow more services to be consistently delivered across the county for more hours of the day and days of the week…

‘Our planned expanded integrated teams could deliver more and better services from a fewer number of sites than the 13 community hospitals with beds and 135 primary care sites that currently operate across Dorset.’

It added that an ‘integrated care hub’ – which covers nine GP practices and 74,000 patients, and operates 8am to 6pm – has the ‘potential to act as a blueprint for the rest of Dorset’.

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Wessex LMC chief executive Dr Nigel Watson said: ‘It is a natural evolution as practices are merging and working together. We would be opposed to it if it were a requirement but where it is supporting practices working at scale then it is fine, and that is what is happening.’

The Hampshire and Isle of Wight STP, also seen by Pulse, said: ‘Collective primary care working will ensure that citizens will have access to on-the-day support and advice, and 40% of primary care issues will be resolved remotely.’

It also plans to ‘reduce 30% of the activity that is currently done in general practice to free up GPs to focus on the highest impact interventions, such as upskilling GPs with new specialist skills to better manage care in the community’.

This will include ‘learning from the commercial sector’ to ‘identify and stop processes and activities that do not add value to the citizen instead providing alternative digital solutions (largely self-service) to enable people to self-manage and self-care’.

NHS England said in a statement: ‘No changes to the services people currently receive will be made without local engagement and, where required, consultation. There are longstanding assurance processes in place to make sure this happens.’

What are STPs?

At the end of last year, NHS England tasked regional teams, CCGs, trusts and local authorities with forming regional footprints, and then write plans for how the NHS Five Year Forward View would be delivered within them.

By January, 44 footprints were formed, and by 30 June each had submitted its first draft Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) to NHS England.

As previously reported by Pulse, each plan has to adress ‘sustainability and quality’ of general practice, including both ’workforce and workload issues’.

At the time, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ’This guidance sets out the next steps to make the vision set out in the Five Year Forward View a reality.

‘A new approach to how local NHS leaders plan to meet health needs across whole areas will sit alongside the new Sustainability and Transformation Fund established as part of our £560bn funding plan for the NHS.’