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More than 500 practices at risk of closure, says RCGP chair

More than 500 practices in England could close within a year because of a ‘deepening crisis’ in the recruitment and retention of GPs, the RCGP has said as it calls for a ‘rescue package’ for general practice.

In addition 1,000 GPs a year will be leaving the profession by 2020 unless ‘urgent action’ is taken, with 22% of GPs in London alone saying they expect to step back from patient care within five years, the RCGP has revealed ahead of its conference in Liverpool today.

The warning echoes Pulse’s own call for action through its ‘Stop Practice Closures’ campaign which it 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.

The college, GPs and health leaders – including health secretary Jeremy Hunt – have lent their support to the campaign which is calling for emergency funding for struggling practices and a parliamentary debate on the issue.

The college identified 543 practices that is facing closure in England – potentially rising to 600 across the UK – largely by looking at workforce and recruitment trends which show the number of vacancies has quadrupled in the last three years.

It found that more than 90% of doctors at these practices are over the age of 60.

In her speech to the RCGP conference today, chair Dr Maureen Baker will argue that if practices continue to close, displaced patients will turn to A&E and swamp other parts of the NHS.

She will demand a rescue package for general practice that includes ‘cutting back on the bureaucracy’ that currently prevents qualified GPs from returning to work after a career break, and ‘specific incentives to encourage more doctors into deprived areas’, that are currently under-doctored.

Dr Baker will say: ‘Every practice closed is a loss to a local community. Not only do patients lose out, but it piles more pressure on neighbouring practices, swelling patient lists already bursting at the seams.’

‘Today I can reveal new estimates from the College that 543 practices in England are at risk of closure if something isn’t done

‘There are practices that have over 90% of GPs over the age of 60, when the average retirement age of GPs is 59 – this is shocking.’

‘Colleagues, the wall of the dam – the service of general practice – is under huge pressure and unless urgent action in taken to repair and restore the dam, it could burst with terrible consequences for our patients in general practice and indeed for the whole of the NHS.’