A GP practice might close because surgeries are merging or forming a federation with other practices to pool their resources in the best interests of patient care – something that the RCGP supports.
But when this happens in some areas, particularly remote and rural areas, it can impact on our patients’ access to care, and every effort must be made to avoid this.
Decisions to merge practices are taken extremely seriously and the potential displacement of patients is a key consideration, even if the move is temporary. Wherever possible, efforts are made to ensure that patients are transferred to a practice nearby with minimal disruption.
Unfortunately, we currently have a severe shortage of GPs across the UK and some practices are being forced to close simply because there are not enough GPs to run them or because workload pressures mean that they can no longer guarantee safe patient care.
GPs and our teams are conducting in excess of 370 million patient consultations a year to keep up with the demand of our growing and ageing population, with many patients presenting with multiple, complex conditions. This is 60 million more consultations than five years ago, yet funding for general practice has declined dramatically in real terms over the past 10 years, and our workforce has remained relatively stagnant.
This is a genuine danger to patient safety – and to the wellbeing of hardworking family doctors and our teams.
The Government has spoken of a package of measures to address the growing pressures facing general practice. It is essential that this includes more investment in general practice, initiatives to ‘recruit retain and return’ thousands more GPs and practice staff, and measures to cut the unnecessary red tape that is taking family doctors away from frontline patient care.