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One in five London practices could close, warn LMCs

Almost one million people in London could lose their GP in the next three years, an LMC survey of GP practices in the capital has shown.

Londonwide LMCs, which received responses from 644 of London’s 1,330 GP practices, found that one in five (20%) cannot rule out handing back their contracts.

Out of these, 19 practices – which together cover 116,491 patients – said they are planning closure within the next three years, while a further 20 practices said they were considering closing within three years.

The number of patients who face losing their GP rises to over 900,000 when those respondents who said they ‘could not rule it out’ were included, according to Londonwide LMCs calculations.

The boroughs of Kensington and Chelsea and Barnet are worst affected, and may lose five and four practices respectively, said the LMCs.

Other survey findings included:

  • 199 practices (31%) have a GP vacancy, including 50 with a current partner vacancy;
  • When including all staff groups, half (49%) of practices have a vacancy;
  • On average, salaried and partner GP vacancies have gone unfilled for eight months;
  • 44% of practices (248) have GPs planning on retiring in the next three years;
  • Among practices planning closure, 62% struggle with unfilled vacancies.

Asked why they think filling vacancies is so difficult, half of London GP practices said it was due to financial uncertainty about the future of the general practice model was the reason. They also pointed to low morale within the GP profession (45%), pay (43%) and a lack of suitable candidates (41%).

In order to cope with their situation, 13% of practices said they were considering reducing services.

Michelle Drage, chief executive of Londonwide LMCs, said: ’Half our practices are short of a member of staff, a third are missing at least one GP and 128 practices, covering over 900,000 patients can’t rule out handing back the keys within three years.’

According to Dr Drage, ‘hero GPs [are] working flat out to cover the gaps’ but they are now at breaking point and urgently need ’more resource and more support… before it is too late’.

She further questioned the Government’s pledge for 5,000 more GPs in England by 2020, saying: ’With junior doctors increasingly reluctant to take on the challenges of general practice, and many leaving the country in the face of the new contracting debacle, London’s general practice future looks decidedly gloomy, delivering current service with fewer staff is unsustainable and unsafe in the long term. Let alone for extended seven day services.

‘Until financial stability is secured and the low morale of existing staff is improved there is little prospect of the junior doctors currently coming through the ranks being the saviours. The oft-quoted influx of 5000 new GPs seem less and less likely with every day that passes.’

Patients losing GP practices across England

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The number of patients being displaced by surgery closures rose by 50% last year, with 200,000 patients in 2015 forced to register with a new GP or travel further to see their existing GP, a recent Pulse investigation revealed.

At the special LMC conference last month, GP leaders voted in favour of canvassing the profession on mass resignations unless the Government agrees a rescue plan for general practice with the GPC within six month.

Pulse has highlighted the increasing numbers of practices closing and their impact through its Stop Practice Closures campaign.

Last week, over 100 GPs signed a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, published by Pulse, warning him that general practice is now unsafe for patients.