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150% rise in patients forced to move GP practice as closures hit record levels

Exclusive More than a quarter of a million patients in England were forced to move GP surgery last year, despite NHS England launching a £500m ‘turnaround package’ designed to alleviate the crisis in general practice.

In total, 265,000 patients had to change their practice – a 150% increase on 2014 figures, and a 15% increase on 2015 – in most cases meaning they have to travel further and lose continuity of care they had with their GP, a Pulse investigation has revealed.

This increase is despite NHS England establishing a £500m ‘turnaround package’ last year to help prevent practices closing.

The Pulse FOI of NHS England and CCGs across England revealed that 58 practices had to completely close last year, while a further 34 surgeries had to close due to practices merging.

The investigation has revealed that some areas have been particularly badly hit.

Brighton, for example, has seen seven practices close in the past two years – including four closures that have displaced a total of almost 9,000 patients since NHS England’s support package was announced last April.

The support package included £16m of support for vulnerable practices to provide them with expert help, essential new staff and, in some cases, direct funding.

However, Pulse last month revealed that this funding was rushed through before the year end, with practices in some areas given £10,000 at the least.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee deputy chair, said: ’The crisis in general practice is now impacting patients right across the country. Despite repeated and clear warnings by the BMA, a decade of underinvestment, and failure by successive governments to take the growing workload and workforce crisis seriously, has led to this situation.

’Even now, despite commitments to address this, practices are facing unacceptable and unjustified rises in premises charges which could be the last straw for some GPs and practices. We urgently need a step change in action to resolve the crisis in general practice before even more patients are impacted and more communities lose their much loved GP service.’

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said: ’GP practices are the lifeblood of our local communities so the complete closure of any practice will always be a last resort when all other options have proved unworkable.

’Unfortunately, too many practices are being forced to close because GPs and their teams can no longer cope with ever-growing patient demand without the necessary funding and workforce to deal with it. This has serious consequences for patient safety and the wellbeing of hard working family doctors and their practice teams.’

Pulse’s Stop Practice Closures campaign

Pulse launched its Stop Practice Closures campaign in 2014 after finding that local leaders were warning that dozens of practices were on the brink of closure due to funding cuts and recruitment problems. 

Since then, these concerns came to pass, with hundreds of practices closing in the past three years (see graphs below).

In 2015, the Government woke up to these problems, with health secretary Jeremy Hunt announcing a £10m package to support vulnerable practices as part of his so-called ‘new deal’ – the implementation of which NHS England last month admitted had been an ‘excrutiating disappointment’.

A year later, NHS England announced a further pot of funding of £16m to support practices. But Pulse has shown that funding to practices has been rushed, after a disappointing start.