Welsh practices are handing back their contracts to the health board to manage at a faster rate than ever before, according to figures compiled by campaign group GP Survival Wales.
It found that 20 practices handed their contract back in the last year, including five that closed.
In the previous five years, 33 practices had handed their contract back, including 17 closures.
The Welsh Government said that the figures don’t take into account practices that were supported back into independent contractor status.
Locum GP Dr Sophie Quinney, from GP Survival Wales, obtained the figures under Freedom of Information requests to health boards.
- Four practices in Cwm Taff have given up their contracts this year alone, while the area hadn’t lost a single one between 2010-2015;
- Betsi Cadwaladr has already seen eight contracts handed back this year with another in the pipeline;
- Aneuryn Bevan lost almost the same number of surgeries this year as it did in the five previous years;
- Powys and Abertawe Bro have each seen one practice hand their contract back this year, compared with one each in the previous five years.
Dr Quinney told Pulse: ‘Looking at the number of family surgeries who have given up their contracts this year compared to the five years before it, there are clear signs that communities are losing their GPs at a faster rate than ever before. And it’s spreading.’
National professional lead for primary care in Wales Dr Richard Lewis told Pulse: ‘The primary care service in Wales is the same as the UK in that it is facing some challenges, particularly the recruitment of GPs into practices.
‘The figures here however don’t fully take into account practices that handed back their contracts but were subsequently supported back into independent contractor status, nor do they represent those practices who merged practices or those that now share services in a collaborative way. ‘
Dr Lewis said that the Welsh Government was ‘focusing front and centre on this and was well advanced to deploy proposals on a national and international level to make Wales attractive to visit and work here’.
Dr Charlotte Jones, chair of the GPC Wales, said: ‘I’m continually hearing from my colleagues across Wales that things are getting worse, not better. We are facing the perfect storm, with GPs nearing retirement, recruitment difficulties, longer working hours and more complex needs of patients.’
Pulse campaigning for support for vulnerable practices
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Pulse has been pressing for immediate support for vulnerable practices across the UK since 2014 through its Stop Practice Closures campaign.
Wales is suffering an acute crisis in GP recruitment, with health boards in the country now stepping in to help practices at risk of closure. Cwm Taf has set up a rapid response team to step in to temporarily managing folding practices.
Health boards in Wales and Scotland are increasingly having to take over the running of practices as many partners are choosing to hand their contracts over to trusts and an increasing number of GPs choose to become salaried employees.
In England, NHS England announced a new tranche of £16 million of funding to support struggling practices.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt first announced the fund in his ‘new deal’ last year, and NHS England said in December that practices with poor CQC ratings or higher-than-average referrals and prescribing would be prioritised.