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Health secretary backs Pulse campaign to Stop Practice Closures

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has given his backing to the aims of Pulse’s campaign to support struggling practices on the brink of closure.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, Mr Hunt said he wanted to find a ‘fair way of funding general practice’ as he pledged his support for the aims of Stop Practice Closures campaign.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham also gave his backing, praising Pulse for the success of the campaign so far and saying it did not ‘make sense’ to allow practices to close.

While Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb would not go as far as giving his support but said the campaign needed to be taken ‘very seriously’.

The support comes after a number of MPs have backed the campaign which Pulse launched after learning that more than 100 practices across the UK had either closed or were actively considering closing as a result of funding cuts and a recruitment crisis. Health minister Dr Dan Poulter revealed in Parliament earlier this month that the number of practices closing has increased dramatically since 2010, when 79 practices closed, compared with 2014, which has already seen 78 practices closing up to 31 August.

The Family Doctor Association, the National Association of Primary Care and the Dispensing Doctors Association have all signed up to the campaign which has been endorsed by the BMA and RCGP.

Mr Hunt told Pulse that he supported the aims of the campaign and that he was ‘not in the business of closing practices.’

He said: ‘I want more GPs, and more capacity in primary care and not less. I think I support the aims of your campaign, I’ll put it that way.’

But he added that he wanted to move to a ‘fair way of funding general practice’.

He said: ‘There is a very strong body of GPs who say we need to move to a more equitable funding basis. I have had GPs come to me bitterly complaining; you could have two practices next door to each other doing the same amount of work and paid different amounts of money, because of historical differences created by MPIG, or the difference between GMS and PMS, and so on.’

Mr Burnham told Pulse that he would ‘definitely’ support the campaign.

He said: ‘How can it make sense to close any practice, or let any practice close, when the pressure on GPs, on getting appointments, is almost getting to unsustainable levels?’

‘And particularly when some of the practices might be in some of the areas that most need good access to primary care. It just cannot make sense. I think your campaign has had some success – there was partial backtrack from NHS England over the summer.’

As Pulse revealed last week, Mr Burnham said the Labour Party will halt the withdrawal of MPIG and the sweeping PMS clawbacks affecting GPs if it wins the next general election, as he warned that the funding cuts could have ‘dire consequences for certain practices’. Mr Burnham, who was health secretary from 2009 to 2010, was forceful in his critique of the Government’s handling of the removal of the MPIG saying that if it could be phased out it had to be done in a way where it did not, as presently, threaten the viability of practices.

Care minister Mr Lamb said the issues behind Pulse’s campaign needed to be taken ‘very seriously’ as the number of practices closing was ‘extremely disturbing’.

He added: ‘We have to seek to understand what’s happening and why it’s happening… The bare figures look extremely disturbing, I fully recognise that, but I think the reality is a bit different. But I take the concerns seriously. We need to be able to work with GPs through these issues.’

Mr Lamb said that he wanted to address the under-doctored areas and the disadvantaged communities as there were ‘fewer GPs than in the leafier suburbs’.

A number of MPs have also given support to the campaign, including Andy Love (Edmonton), Mark Williams (Ceredigion), David Jones (Clwyd West), Grahame Morris (Easington) and Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse).