Record 138 GP surgeries closed down last year

So that’s why you can’t get a doctor: A record 138 surgeries closed down last year as rising number of GPs take early retirement or change career

  • In 2013, just 18 surgeries shut across the UK – by last year that number had increased nearly eight-fold
  • Over the last six years, 585 practices have gone, covering a population of nearly 1.9million people
  • The rate of closures is accelerating because doctors are opting for early retirement or abandoning careers
  • More surgery closures are planned in Birmingham, North London, Coventry, Oxfordshire, Cornwall and Dorset

A record 138 GP surgeries shut down last year as millions struggled to secure appointments.

They closed at the rate of more than two a week, affecting more than 500,000 patients.

As recently as 2013, just 18 surgeries shut across the UK. By last year that number had increased nearly eight-fold, according to figures released today.

It means that over the last six years, 585 practices have gone – covering a population of nearly 1.9million.

More GP surgeries are shutting down than ever before as shocking figures show 138 closed their doors in 2018, a stark rise from 18 in 2013

The closures come just as pressure on GPs is increasing because the population is both growing and ageing.

Experts believe the rate of surgery closures is accelerating because rising numbers of under-pressure doctors are opting for early retirement – or deciding to abandon their careers.

At the same time, managers are finding it much harder to fill the empty posts and in many cases have no choice but to permanently shut their doors, or merge with another surgery.

THE 10 AREAS WITH THE HIGHEST AMOUNT OF AFFECTED PATIENTS 

The following are healthboards or CCGs with the highest amount of patients affected by a branch closure or merger. 

1. North Hampshire: 61,973

2. Aneurin Bevan University Health Board: 29,476

3. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board: 21,594

4. Ipswich and East Suffolk: 20,591

5. Walsall: 16,422

6. Brighton and Hove: 15,819

7.  Dudley: 14,370

8.  HSCNI, Northern Ireland: 12,440

9. Dorset: 11,922

10. Mansfield and Ashfield: 11,088

10. Gloucestershire: 11,088

Last night, patient groups and GP leaders described the trend as ‘incredibly serious’, particularly for the elderly and those reliant on public transport.

Pressures on GP services are higher than ever. Since 2013 the number of people living in the UK has soared from 64million in 2013 to nearly 67million.

But the number of GPs has not kept pace, making it harder and harder for patients to secure appointments.

Separate data yesterday showed that the NHS actually lost a net 441 fully-qualified GPs in the last year.

Meanwhile, further surgery closures are planned for the coming weeks in Birmingham, North London, Coventry, Oxfordshire, Cornwall and Dorset.

Patients hit by closures usually have to register with a new practice, which may be further away and involves a complicated journey by public transport.

Data obtained by Pulse magazine using Freedom of Information requests showed that 138 surgeries closed in the UK in 2018, affecting an estimated 519,500 patients. That had risen from 134 in 2017 and compares to 18 in 2013, according to responses from 186 Clinical Commissioning Groups – local health trusts.

There are no official figures on whether any new surgeries are opening up but GP sources stressed that this was unlikely, and numbers would be minimal.

A fifth of the closures in 2018 involved mergers where smaller organisations are taken over by larger ones nearby to form super surgeries. These can still be hugely disruptive for patients.

Rachel Power of the Patients Association, said: ‘Patients will be right to feel alarmed. Many may be left wondering if their practice might be next. It’s particularly concerning to see smaller practices being forced to shut up shop.

‘Many of their patients will have built strong relationships with their family doctor over many years. These closures could leave patients facing long waits, and push more towards A&E – which we know is under severe pressure itself.’

The Cornish fishing village of Mevaigassy is set to lose their only current GP as a wave of closures sweep across the UK

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairman of the Royal College of GPs said: ‘These figures are sad but, unfortunately, not surprising. 

‘GPs and our teams are working to our absolute limits to provide safe, high-quality care, while general practice is under intense pressure, and this is resulting in some GPs leaving the profession, and in other cases forcing them to close their doors.

‘In some areas, closures are the result of surgeries merging or joining federations in order to pool their resources and provide additional services.

‘But when a practice closes … it’s heartbreaking for everyone involved, especially those patients who have to travel long distances to their new surgery and get to know new teams.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee said: ‘These figures clearly show the increased pressure that practices have been under over the last decade, as workload mounts, more doctors leave and surgeries struggle to recruit new staff.’

The BMA has warned that growing numbers of GPs and consultants are taking early retirement or cutting back on work to avoid hefty pensions taxes which make it uneconomic to continue practising. Retiring GPs often create a domino effect by leaving remaining colleagues with more work, who in turn become demoralised and quit.

The problem has been compounded by the fact that more doctors are now working part-time.

Data from NHS Digital showed the number of qualified, full-time GPs fell from 29,190 in March 2018 to 28,697.

NHS England, which runs the health service, said it ‘refuted’ the Pulse figures. It pointed to its own data which suggested the pace of closures was slowing. A spokesman said: ‘In England there were fewer closures and patient dispersals in 2017/18 compared with 2016/17.

‘Thousands of practices continue to be helped through the GP resilience programme, where investment has been increased from a planned £8million in 2019/20 to £13million.’

MORE THAN 700 GP SURGERIES COULD CLOSE BY 2023

More than 2.5 million patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, experts revealed in November.

The Royal College of General Practitioners said 762 practices in the UK are at risk of closing within the next five years because at least three quarters of their doctors are aged 55 or over and approaching retirement.

Experts said so many closures would have a ‘catastrophic’ effect on the health service. 

Appointment waiting times could get even longer, workloads would grow and more people could end up queueing at A&E for minor illnesses.

Campaigners warned the potential closures would be ‘dangerous’ for patients and are calling for ‘drastic action’ to encourage new GPs to join the profession.

The situation is worst in Southend in Essex, where 13 of the area’s 35 GP practices are at risk of closing, potentially affecting nearly 39,000 patients.

A third of surgeries in the London borough of Havering could shut down, and more than 85,000 patients could lose their GP in Sandwell and West Birmingham.

Only around a quarter of areas of England have no practices at risk of closure, according to the RCGP’s estimates.

Figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners have revealed 762 GP practices across the UK are at risk of closing in the next five years (Map shows the proportion of surgeries in each area which are at risk of closing)

Villagers are campaigning to save their local surgery after it emerges the practice will close if a new GP can’t step in when the current doctor retires in July 

Patients in a remote Cornish fishing village are desperately campaigning to find a GP.

The only doctor at the Mevagissey surgery is leaving in July and unless she can be replaced, it will close.

There are 5,300 patients in the village, near Saint Austell, many of whom are elderly and unable to drive. 

They have started a ‘Will You Be My GP’ campaign on social media in the hope of attracting a doctor.

The only doctor at the Mevagissey surgery is leaving in July and unless she can be replaced, it will close, with many residents starting a campaign

Resident Nicola Mason said: ‘Me and my son both suffer from severe asthma and require quite frequently the aid of a nebuliser that we can pop down and use as soon as possible when we need it. 

‘This is – and has been – a life saver to us. Without the surgery we will face longer travel and have to wait to get life-saving treatment.’

Ken Sweet, 86, who lives nearby, but was born in Mevagissey, said: ‘My wife and I have been patients for 30 years and it’s difficult to get into another surgery. 

‘As you get older you need more regular care and it’s very worrying we might not be able to get it.’

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