EXCLUSIVE Tens of thousands of patients could be forced to register with another GP, as several practices prepare to close their doors early in 2016.
Pulse has learnt that six practices in England and Wales are closing due to GPs retiring early or becoming ill, leaving over 25,000 patients facing the prospect of moving practices.
GP leaders say the figures are a ‘terrible concern’ for patient access to primary healthcare and are the result of years of underfunding.
This latest wave of closures comes months after Pulse revealed last year that 160,000 patients were displaced across the country between 2013 and 2015.
Pulse launched a ‘Stop Practice Closures’ campaign in 2014 to highlight the numbers of practices at risk of going under, but only recently have managers recognised there is a problem.
Last month, NHS England asked all areas to come up with a plan ’to address the sustainability and quality of general practice’, but for many patients this could come too late.
Dr Kevin Newly, a single-handed GP in Leicester, will close his practice on the 1 February after deciding to retire from his post after 27. He told Pulse that that his 2,700 patients would have to look for new practices to join.
He told Pulse: ‘I’m a firm believer in continuity of care. The CCG wanted to use a caretaker practice but I thought that was unfair for patients to be put in limbo so I decided it was best to close.’
Another single-handed GP in North Wales will retire at the end of March, meaning 2,000 patients at the Rhuddlan Surgery will have to register elsewhere.
Dr Hazel Drury told Pulse she will retire at 45 years old because of the ‘relentless’ workload: ‘I’ve been here for 13 years, working for 51 weeks a year and there’s nobody around if I want to take a day off. [Because of] the demands placed on us now as GPs it’s just not possible for one doctor to do.’
The closure of Dr Drury’s practice will add to the pressure on surrounding GP practices as 21,000 patients were displaced when two practices shut their doors in the neighbouring town of Prestatyn last year.
The Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board said it has informed patients and is working on a solution for their re-registration elsewhere.
Other closures confirmed by Pulse include:
- In Peacehaven, Sussex, 2,500 patients at the Foxhill Medical Centre were left without a GP from 1 January after Dr Virendra Kumar Gupta retired. NHS High Weald Lewes Havens CCG told Pulse that patients had been told they could register with surrounding practices, but they did not know ‘if those patients have actually registered’.
- Woodhead Road Surgery in Bradford has been run by a caretaker practice since November when the partners decided to end their contract. However, NHS Bradford Districts CCG is now consulting with the 3,000 patients at the practice regarding whether the practice should find new management or close.
- The partners at the Lansdowne Road Surgery in Bedford are resigning their contract and their 7,353 patients will be temporily looked after by a caretaker practice from 1 April. A spokesperson from the surgery told Pulse that it has ’explored every avenue open to us but have been unable to recruit new GPs to join the practice’.
- South Park Surgery in Reigate and nearby West Kingsdown Medical Centre, which serve 8,000 patients collectively, are facing closure, as their GPs have also decided to terminate their contracts with NHS England.
Dr Robert Morley, executive secretary of Birmingham LMC and chair of the GPC contracts and regulation subcommittee, said a lack of sustainable funding has created ‘a terrible concern about patient access’.
He said: ‘Overall workload for general practice has absolutely mushroomed over the last few years while funding has been flat or in some cases cut because of the abolition of the MPIG and PMS contract reviews.’
He added that widespread closures would put added pressure on neighbouring practices: ‘Practices closing puts additional pressure on the practices near them causing access problems. Patients quite often can’t get appointments for several weeks for routine care in many practices.’
But an NHS England spokesperson said that they were ‘working hard’ to help GPs with the current pressures on them.
He said: ’Latest figures show there are over five thousand more full time equivalent GPs than ten years ago and general practice is key to transforming the way health services will be delivered in the future.
’This is why we are working hard across the health service to help GPs through the current pressures as well as investing £10 million in ways to further boost the workforce, including a new campaign encouraging more medical students to become GPs.’
The Welsh Government declined to comment.