One in 10 GP practices could be forced to close by 2022, BMA warns

One in 10 GP practices in England may be forced out of business over the next four years - potentially driving 6m patients to find a new family doctor, the BMA has warned.

Practice closures (Photo: iStock.com/ChrisHepburn)
Practice closures (Photo: iStock.com/ChrisHepburn)

Projections developed by the BMA based on the rate of practice closures and mergers in recent years suggest that between 618 and 777 practices could close by 2022. The first projection is based on the rate of practice closures between 2016 and 2017, while the second tracks the rate of change over the past six years.

Analysis published in a BMA report, The general practice forward view: two years on - based on NHS Digital data - show that there were 166 fewer practices in 2017 (7,361) than in 2016 (7,527), while the total has fallen by 963 since 2010, when there were 8,324 practices in England.

The BMA report follows analysis by GPonline earlier this year that found more than 250 practices in England closed or merged in the 2017/18 financial year alone.

GP funding

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey hit out at the 'devastating impact' of practice closures in recent years. ‘Patients already face unacceptably long waits for appointments, and without urgent government action and significantly more investment this will only get worse as millions more are left without a practice and struggling to find a new one,’ he said.

‘The prime minister has pledged to lay out a long-term funding plan for the NHS later this year, and she must use this opportunity to tackle the decade of underinvestment in general practice.’

BMA warnings over rising numbers of practice closures comes after health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt admitted this week that he is ‘struggling to deliver’ his pledge to recruit an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020/21.

Primary care provision

The BMA's progress report on the GP Forward View warns: ‘In 2016 NHS England published its GP Forward View (GPFV), outlining a number of measures aimed at improving primary care provision and the working lives of doctors, but two years on, it’s clear that it is struggling to deliver on its promises.

‘While progress has been made in a number of areas, GPFV has failed to make a big enough impact on the recruitment and retention crisis, and has been unable, so far, to make any significant inroad into the unmanageable daily workload within general practice.’

GPonline's analysis of practice closures and mergers in 2017/18 found that the average list size of practices that merged or closed was 3,887 - around half the national average.

Large practices were also caught up in changes, however - the largest practice that appears to have closed or merged had a registered list of more than 19,000 patients. A total of 13 practices had list sizes in excess of 10,000 patients.

A DHSC spokesman said: 'There are a number of reasons why GP practices close - they may merge with other practices in order to improve services to their patients or GPs could retire from single-handed practices.

‘But we recognise the everyday pressures facing GPs and that’s why we’re increasing investment by £2.4bn a year by 2021 and are determined to recruit 5,000 new doctors.'

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