Over a quarter of GP partners fear their practice may close within five years

More than a quarter of GP partners fear their practice may not be open five years from now as pressure on practices continues to rise, a GPonline poll suggests.

Some 28% of partners said they disagreed with the statement ‘my practice is sustainable and will remain open five years from now’. Of these, 12% of said they strongly disagreed with the statement, while a further 16% mildly disagreed.

The survey of 217 partners found that just 30% strongly agreed that their practice would be open five years from now, while a further 29% mildly agreed. The remaining 13% neither agreed nor disagreed that their practice was sustainable.

The poll also found that 6% of GP partners believe their practice is at risk of closure in the next 12 months because of underfunding, workload or recruitment problems.

Many more GPs are aware of struggling practices in their local area – almost half of the respondents (48%) said they knew a neighbouring practice that was at risk of closure in the next year.

Increasing pressure

A staggering 96% of partners said that pressures on practices in their area had increased during the past 12 months as a result of underfunding, workload or recruitment problems. Just 4% said pressure had remained the same and no GP said pressure had decreased.

Last week GPonline revealed that practices are considering drastic measures to cut costs in order to keep their practices sustainable. Over 60% of GP partners plan to cut their practice's use of locum GPs in the next year, and half could reduce their own pay.

This is despite evidence from official data this month that GP funding rose by 3% in real terms across the UK in 2016/17.

However the BMA has warned that years of underinvestment have left the profession far short of the funding it needs to maintain high standards of service. It is predicting a shortfall in GP funding of £3.4bn by 2020/21, even with the additional funding commitments set out in NHS England’s GP Forward View.

Writing for GPonline last week GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'Despite the significant work that has flowed from secondary to primary care only 7.9% of overall NHS investment is currently going to general practice compared with 9.6% in 2005/6.

'A simple calculation shows that this means GP practices are receiving £2bn less than they would have been had spending been maintained at 2005/6 levels.'

What GPs said

One GP responding to the poll said: 'My partners and I have already had pay cuts and no pay rises for more than five years. The workload is increasing and the only doctors we can find to work are locums. We've advertised for salaried GPs, but they want more money and it isn't possible. Two partners will retire in 2020 and we are concerned we won't find people to take their place.'

Another said: 'The greatest problem is being unable to attract partners. I think the current model is rapidly becoming unsustainable.'

While a further added: 'At present we are likely to cope but consider list closure. We are a 17,000 patient practice and have always been GMS. Smaller practices with a different contract and a budget that is being cut more rapidly struggle more and a few have closed already.'

Practice closures and mergers are becoming a common feature of general practice. Earlier this year official data revealed that more than 200 practices had closed or merged in the previous 12 months. GPonline analysis of official data in June concluded that 671 practices had been lost since 2013.

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