Exclusive: Health secretary in crisis talks over practice closure fears

The health secretary is holding crisis talks this evening with London GPs and politicians over the threat of practice closures in the capital.

Jeremy Hunt: crisis talks over London GP practices (Photo: Pete Hill)
Jeremy Hunt: crisis talks over London GP practices (Photo: Pete Hill)

Jeremy Hunt is meeting with five MPs who have raised concerns over the threat of practice closures in their areas.

Practices are being represented by Dr Naureen Bhatti of Limehouse practice, which is under threat of closure because of MPIG losses, and Virginia Patania, practice manager at Jubilee Street Practice and board member of Tower Hamlets CCG.

Speaking to GPonline ahead of the talks Ms Patania said the timing was significant as Mr Hunt prepares to announce details of his new deal for general practice on Friday. 

General practice representatives will present Mr Hunt with calculations showing the extent of losses faced over coming years. Practices in Tower Hamlets face losses of more than £20m over seven years, more than £4m of which stems from MPIG correction factor withdrawal.

Ms Patania, who has lead the east London Save Our Surgeries campaign since Jubilee Street announced it faced closure in 2014, said she hoped to make the case to Mr Hunt that ‘in the same way that hospitals in the past have been able to demonstrate their inability to deliver care, at the moment we are unable to provide the access and safety we would like’.

‘We are cognisant that it seems to be easier to find bail out money for failing trusts and hospitals  but this never seems to apply to primary care’, she said.

GPs are asking government to intervene either to reverse changes imposed on GP funding in the 2013 contract, including MPIG withdrawal, or fund an emergency reprieve to support all practices badly affected by funding changes.

'NHS England has explained to us they are essentially putting in place a government initiative', said Ms Patania. 'We hope to be able to either block that initiative with Jeremy Hunt himself or change it such that a reprieve of emergency funding can be found to support practices through this period of cuts'. 

She added: ‘We must have a reprieve to tide us over until especially deprived areas have a more solid funding formula that acknowledges the pressures we face.' 

The practice manager said she was ‘confident’ of their case. ‘We enter this meeting with the same confidence that has led us to radical change in the past’, she added.

Emily Thornberry (Labour, Islington South), one of the MPs who called for the meeting with Mr Hunt after several practice in her consituiency faced closure threats, said government changes to GP funding had created a ‘mess’ for practices. 

She said: ‘GP practices are at the heart of a well-functioning NHS, and as the last five years has shown, patients often face no choice but to go to A&E if they’re unable to get an appointment to see their GP, further increasing the strain on our already overburdened hospitals. It’s time for the government to take responsibility and do something about this unacceptable situation.’  

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