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Labour condemns NHS memo saying practices should be ‘allowed to fail’

Polticians and GP leaders alike have come out to condemn the news that some GP practices could be allowed to ‘fail and wither’.

Pulse’s story on a leaked report from a senior NHS England official has been met with concern from a variety of sources, including the Labour Party and the BMA, and was covered on BBC News at Ten last night.

Jonathan Ashworth, the Labour MP appointed shadow health secretary last week, said it was ‘unacceptable for vulnerable GP surgeries to be allowed to wither away’ and called on the Government ‘to take action to protect those surgeries and the patients they care for’.

He said: ‘This is bad news for struggling GP surgeries and the patients who rely on them.

‘Allowing local GP surgeries to fail will only make it harder for patients to get an appointment when one in four patients already have to wait a week or more, or don’t get an appointment at all. In some areas patients could be forced to travel miles and miles to see a GP.

The BMA also called the stance unacceptable, and warned that there was now ‘a real prospect that patients in some areas will be left without access to local GP care’, especially since the vulnerable practices funding has not materialised on the ground for struggling practices.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘The entire basis for the practice resilience scheme was to provide immediate support to the hundreds of GP practices across England which are facing closure because of rising demand, staff shortages and falling budgets.

‘The BMA lobbied intensely and successfully for this funding because there is a real prospect that patients in some areas will be left without access to local GP care.’

He was it was ‘unacceptable that there now appears to be delays in delivering this crucial funding and that some managers seems to believe that GP practices can be left to close’.

He added: ‘There are many practices who were previously performing well and valued by their patients, but are now vulnerable because of spiralling workload and recruitment problems beyond their control.

‘These services are not trivial: they provide vital care to families, older people and the vulnerable as the lynchpin of the NHS in the community. The government needs to deliver this funding immediately and deter a mind-set amongst managers that some GP practices can be allowed to disappear.’

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker commented at first calling the statement ‘shocking’, saying that ‘far from leaving [GP practices] to “wither on the vine”, NHS England’s resilience programme ought to be identifying practices that are at risk of closure and providing them with immediate practical assistance’.

She said: ‘If this is not happening it is very concerning and we will be raising this with NHS England.’

But she later added: ‘We have now spoken to NHS England at a senior level and they have assured us that they remain fully committed to supporting vulnerable practices and getting the money to them with the maximum possible speed – and that they will be looking at what further action they need to take to ensure that this policy intention is translated into reality on the ground.’

Paul Twomey, medical director of the Yorkshire and Humber area team had said that NHS England is ‘no longer in a position’ to continue supporting vulnerable practices ‘irrespective of their willingness or ability’ to transform.

As previously revealed by Pulse, GP practices are closing while awaiting vulnerable practice funding promised by health secretary Jeremy Hunt and this week we reported on a financially unsustainable GP surgery where partners are forced to consider personal bankruptcy because the local CCG will not re-tender the contract.