A total of 474 GP surgeries have closed permanently in the UK since 2013 without being replaced, an investigation has found.
Smaller surgeries and those in deprived areas were the most likely to close, according to exclusive research by our sister publication Pulse.
The closures have left 1.5m patients displaced, having to travel miles in some cases to new surgeries and placing other GP practices under even greater pressure.
Recruitment issues were the final straw for most of the practices that closed, although CQC ratings and the ending of APMS contracts were also major factors.
The research identified triggers for 162 practices that closed, and recruitment problems were the issue that prompted closure for more than 40% of them.
These surgeries also had markedly smaller list sizes than average – a median list size of 2,738, compared with a median list size of 7,904 in England in 2020-21.
And they were located in more deprived areas than other average surgeries – with a median deprivation score of 3.81 compared with 4.41 for an average practice (with 1 most deprived and 10 least deprived).
Practices in deprived areas said they have a higher workload and they miss out on funding received by their counterparts in more affluent areas.
Funding was an issue for most of the practices in England that have closed. The research found that 69% of practices that shut for good in England received lower funding per patient the last full financial year before they closed than the average funding for that financial year.
Dr David Wrigley, BMA England GP committee deputy chair, said it was ‘deeply concerning’ that so many people had seen their local practice close.
‘Losing your GP practice and having to move to another means losing the vital continuity of care that keeps people well, improves health outcomes and which makes general practice the bedrock of the NHS in the UK,’ he said.
‘For smaller practices, already on the sharp end of the workforce crisis in general practice, the loss of just a single GP has the potential to be catastrophic for a community.’
Dr Wrigley added that the impact on the most vulnerable people was likely to be significant.
‘That these closures are also happening in the most deprived areas of the country is doubly worrying, as we move into a winter that will be defined by a terrifying rise in living costs and in particular sky-high increases in fuel costs which will impact the most vulnerable in our society,’ he said.
Increased social deprivation would exacerbate existing health problems and lead to further pressures on the remaining practices, said Dr Wrigley.
And some patients in deprived areas may be unable to access a GP at all, he said: ‘People struggling the most financially may not be able to afford to travel the extra distance to their nearest practice – meaning they may avoid seeking help all together.’
The research is part of Pulse’s Lost Practices investigation.