As many as 762 practices across the UK could be forced to close over the next five years as their GPs are approaching retirement, the RCGP has said.
Three-quarters of the practices’ GPs are aged over 55 and will soon retire, according to a new RCGP analysis published today.
Around 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland will be affected, according to the RCGP analysis, which is based on NHS Digital data.
This means that more than 2.5 million patients in England may need to find a new practice in the next five years, having a ‘catastrophic impact on the profession and the patient care’, said RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard.
The RCGP expects Sandwell and West Birmingham (85,105 patients), Medway (52,330), Havering (49,761), Ealing (46,909) and Wigan Borough (43,640) clinical commission group areas to be the worst affected.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said general practice has had to cope with a growing workload but receives a share of the NHS budget that is ‘less than it was a decade ago’.
She added: ‘Our workforce is actually decreasing. As a result, many GPs are bringing forward their retirement plans because the pressures they are working under are untenable.
‘It is a massive loss to the profession and patients to lose our most experienced doctors prematurely when they have huge amounts of knowledge and skill.’
More GPs in training
An NHS England spokesperson dismissed the RCGP findings saying that ‘these forecasts only stack up if you presume no new doctors or health professionals will start work in general practice in the future’.
They added: ‘In reality, the NHS is spending an extra £2.4bn on general practice by 2020 and training more GPs than ever before.’
NHS England currently counts around 3,019 GPs in training, 10% up from last year. According to Health Education England, the number is set to bump up to 3,250 this year.
However, Professor Stokes-Lampard said that ‘if we have more GPs leaving than entering the profession, we’re fighting a losing battle’.
Additional funding needed
The RCGP has recently called for an ‘overhaul’ of the GPFV, asking for an extra £2.5bn to be invested in general practice by 2020/21 to ensure GP practices have the ‘support and resources they need to deliver high-quality patient care’.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said: ‘We urgently need to see existing promises of investment for general practice, 5,000 more GPs, and 5,000 more members of the wider practice team delivered in full in England – and for equivalent promises to be made and delivered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.’