Exclusive More than 160,000 patients across the UK have had to register with another practice as a result of their practice closing over the past two years, show figures obtained by Pulse.
The figures show over 60 GP practices across the UK have been forced to close since April 2013 and, as a result, thousands of patients have been displaced.
The data – obtained from NHS England and health boards in Scotland and Wales under the Freedom of Information Act – are the first to show the distressing consequences of rising numbers of GP practices going to the wall.
GP leaders said this is not only bad for patients, but also piles the pressure on neighbouring practices, which are often forced to take on additional patients.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said he believed the figures obtained by Pulse are the ‘tip of a much bigger iceberg’.
He said: ‘There are many practices on the brink of collapse, while others are significantly reducing the level of services they can offer.’
He added: ‘There needs to be a national, proactive approach to support general practice to pre-empt and prevent this sort of issue occurring. Far too often it is a case of trying to make amends after the event.’
The closures are having a dramatic impact in some areas. In the Midlands, seven GP practices closed between April 2013 to April 2015, displacing 27,000 patients. Birmingham LMC executive secretary Dr Robert Morley said the situation was ‘absolutely dire and getting rapidly worse’.
He adds: ‘We have small partnerships that are becoming unviable because of issues of recruitment, retention, impossible workload, GP illness and singlehanders retiring, and practices are also being closed by the CQC.’
London has seen some 52,000 patients displaced after 22 closures – all but one of which involved GMS or PMS practices.
Dr Tony Grewal, medical secretary of Londonwide LMCs, says the closures put significant pressure onto neighbouring practices, which often have little choice but to take on the patients who have been left without a GP.
He says: ‘Surrounding practices may have to deal with several hundreds of new patients in a short space of time [and] it is recognised that the first year of registration with a new practice requires considerable extra work.’
Only a few areas of the UK have avoided major closures, but local GP leaders are warning that it is only a matter of time before more practices succumb. In the South-West of England, only one small practice has had to close, but Devon LMC medical secretary Dr Mark Sanford Wood says: ‘We have been relatively spared so far. The omens for the next 12 months are not good, though.’