Exclusive Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has agreed to shadow an inner-London GP – but the practice in question might be forced to close before he can spare the time to visit.
Pulse has learned that Mr Hunt ‘promised’ to visit GP Dr Naureen Bhatti, who works at the Limehouse Practice in Tower Hamlets, following a crisis meeting between Mr Hunt and London GPs to discuss funding last week.
Mr Hunt agreed to shadow Dr Bhatti, but said the visit was unlikely to take place until the autumn due to diary commitments.
However, Dr Bhatti told Pulse that September was ‘crunch time’ for the practice and that it would be ‘very likely’ to close by the time of the visit due to the withdrawal of MPIG, unless it received urgent reprieve funding.
GPs at the Limehouse Practice are among the leaders of the Save Our Surgeries campaign, which has sought to highlight the effect of the withdrawal of MPIG on the practices in the east London area.
NHS England had previously announced that it would provide extra financial support in 2014/15 and 2015/16 to a ‘small number of GP practices in London that serve patients in more deprived areas and which are significantly affected by recent changes to the GP funding system’.
Dr Bhatti said that her practice was one of the most deprived in Tower Hamlets – which itself is one of the most deprived areas in the country – but no support had been forthcoming.
She added: ‘We are waiting for this year’s accounts to be finalised in September and will be seeing if we remain viable or we collectively hand our notice to NHS England.
‘NHSE will give us no reprieve as we don’t quite hit the magic £3 a patient, but at £2.75 a patient, how can a practice like ours survive an expected loss of nearly 20% of our income over seven years?’
If the practice is still running when Mr Hunt visits, Dr Bhatti said she would make sure that he comes away from the experience with a little more understanding of a GP’s challenges in inner London.
‘I want Mr Hunt to come and see the work we do, see the circumstances under which we work; I’ll take him on some home visits and to one of the hostels we support and ask him how we can manage this with any less money.’
A Department of Health spokesperson confirmed that Mr Hunt was due to visit Dr Bhatti in the autumn but could not provide any further comment.
The meeting on 18 June, organised by Islington South & Finsbury Labour MP Emily Thornberry, saw half a dozen GPs meeting with Mr Hunt to discuss a number of issues, including how the withdrawal of MPIG was hitting practices in deprived London areas.
Pulse has been campaigning for practices in danger of closure to be given support as part of the Stop Practice Closures campaign.
The health secretary announced in his ‘new deal’ last week that the Government was investing £10m to a fund for struggling practices.