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​More than a third of GP practices may close lists to new patients

Over a third of practices (37%) may end up not accepting new patients in the near future, a Pulse survey of GPs has revealed.

When asked whether their practice has looked at the option of temporary list closure over the past year, 9% of 500 GP respondents said they ‘have already done it’.

And a further 28% said they ‘are considering it’.

Meanwhile, NHS England approved fewer temporary list closure requests in 2016/17 compared to the year before.

In all, 145 requests to close lists were granted last year, compared to 175 in 2015/16, a Freedom of Information request to NHS England has revealed.

Proportionally, this means that NHS England turned down 37% of requests in the last year.

This compares to 30% in 2013 and 20% in 2012, the last time Pulse were provided with figures.

The news comes as the BMA has signalled that it will not go ahead to organise the closing of practice lists in a mass action.

This followed its own GP survey finding 54% of practices in England would be willing to close their lists temporarily, while 44% said they would be willing to close lists permanently.

A number of GPs told Pulse they had applied to close their lists but were told by NHS England or health boards that they were not allowed.

A GP in Wales said: ‘We have wanted and needed to but we are not allowed to according to the local health board.’

Meanwhile, a GP in Lancashire said: ‘We requested list closure but were told no, so requested retracting our boundaries and were told no.’ 

One GP, based in Hampshire, said their practice had ‘taken legal advice’ with regards to closing their list ‘if the list reaches the limit of safety’.

Dr Andrew Naylor, a GP on the Western Isles of Scotland said: ‘We are being strict on not taking patients outwith the traditional practice boundaries.’

The BMA GP Committee’s contracts and regulations lead Dr Robert Morley said: ‘These figures speak volumes about the massive pressures that general practices are facing at present.

‘GPs must prioritise the delivery of providing safe care to their current registered lists and are clearly doing so.

‘We can only expect the situation to get worse unless the required steps to improve matters are taken now and those with the power to do so must take note.’

Dr Nigel Watson, chief executive of Wessex LMCs, said: ‘This just reflects the pressure general practice is facing. Practices can’t recruit or retain.

‘When hospitals struggle they get more funding but general practice needs more resources in terms of people to meet the workload.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘General practice is under unprecedented pressure from rising workload, tightening budgets and widespread staff shortages. These findings are unsurprising and the BMA’s larger survey found that even higher numbers of GP practices were considering closing their patient lists because they cannot provide care effectively and safely to the public in the current climate.

‘The poll results were central to the development of our proposals in Saving General Practice, which if implemented would help to turn around the current crisis. The BMA is also regularly using its poll of members, and the growing reality around the country, as evidence in its talks with the government to impress on them the need for urgent action to solve the crisis facing general practice.’

Speaking at the England LMCs Conference last month, Dr Vautrey said that it would be in the power of the GPC to take industrial action regarding mass list closures.

But he added that instead the GPC intends to use the survey results to pressure Government and it is ‘not telling practices to close their lists’.

Have you looked at temporary list closure over the past 12 months?

Yes, we have already done it – 9%

Yes, we are considering it – 28%

No – 60%

Don’t know – 3%

The survey was launched on 10 October 2017, collating responses using the SurveyMonkey tool. The 25 questions asked covered a wide range of GP topics, to avoid selection bias on one issue. The survey was advertised to our readers via our website and email newsletter, with a prize draw for a Ninja Coffee Bar as an incentive to complete the survey. A total of 500 GPs answered this question.