Most daily papers today are running stories regarding the GP shortage – Charlie Cooper for The Independent writes – Thousands of patients have had to find a new GP because their local practice has closed, as staff shortages and workload pressures take there toll on surgeries, figures show.
In England, Scotland and Wales, 61 practices have closed since April 2013 which has forced more than 160,000 people to register somewhere new, figures obtained via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests show.
Closures are being forced by problems both in recruiting new GPs and in retaining the existing workforce. The figures, obtained by the GPs’ magazine Pulse, were described as “the tip of an icebergh” by one senior GP.
The closures will be of concern to the Government, which has pledged to expand access with all patients able to visit their surgery, seven days a week, 8am until 8pm, by 2020.
Data released by the Government last year indicated that more than 500 practices had closed between 2009 and mid-2014. These also include practices lost through mergers and takeovers.
Practice closures are piling pressure on other GPs who must take on the displaced patients, doctors’ leaders said. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told Pulse: “There are many practices on the brink of collapse, while others are reducing the level of services they can offer.”
Dr Robert Morley, of Birmingham’s Local Medical Committee, said the situation was “absolutely dire and getting worse”.
“We have small partnerships that are becoming unviable becuse of issues of recruitment, retention, impossible workload, GP illness and ‘single-handers’ [GPs running a practice alone] retiring. Practices are also being closed by the Care Quality Commission,” he said. The GP workforce is ageing, and the heavy demands of the job – many GPs now routinely see 60 patients a day – are forcing many to opt for early retirement.
In England, 2,688 GPs were recruited in 2014, leaving nearly 400 posts unfilled. In contrast, Wales and Scotland were able to fill around 90 per cent of their GP training posts.
A Department of Health spokesman said it was taking the necessary steps to deal with the situation and said plans for seven-day services were “firmly on track”.