Up to 600 practices could be at risk of closure across the UK because of the deepening workforce crisis, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) chair has warned at the annual conference today.
Figures released by the College show more than 1,000 GPs will be leaving general practice each year by 2022.
The number of unfilled GP posts has nearly quadrupled over the past three years. Over 90% of the GPs working in practices set to close are aged over 60.
At the same time, applications to undertake GP training have dropped by 15% this year, with only 40% of medical graduates choosing to enter general practice training.
“We all know about the 98 practices in England identified by NHS England as being at risk of closure because of the removal of MPIG. Today I can reveal new estimates from the College that 543 practices in England alone are at risk of closure in the next few years if something isn’t done soon,” RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said.
“This number could be as high as 600 across the United Kingdom.”
Speaking to the crowd of around 2,500 GPs and practice staff at the RCGP Annual Conference in Liverpool, Dr Baker said that primary care needs a “new deal” which will move away from bureaucracy hat currently prevents qualified GPs from returning to work after a career break, and specific incentives to encourage more doctors into deprived areas, that are currently under-doctored.
But also, the NHS needs to move away from a narrow focus on specific diseases and conditions.
Just two days ago a £400 million fund to allow patients to access general practice from 8am to 8pm seven says a week revealed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
The extension of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund was accompanied by the promise that every patient in England will have a named GP by 2020.
In her speech, Dr Baker said that there was “much to welcome in the detail of the Prime Minister’s proposals”.
She added: “The media debate around the announcement gave the false impression that all patients will be able to walk into their local surgery on evenings and weekends. Headlines like that serve to raise expectations that general practice cannot live up to with the resources that we’re currently given.”
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s announcement today that a study has been commissioned to look into how many staff are needed in primary and community care was more widely welcomed, however.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the independent study that he has commissioned form HEE, and we do commit to working with them on this analysis,” said Dr Baker.
“I think it will be highly informative to get accurate and localised views on the clinical and support workforce that we need to meet the needs of patients.”
Plans to reorganise the NHS around hospital-led care were dismissed by Dr Baker. The RCGP believes it would “destroy general practice as we know it, and do irreparable harm to patient care”.
She said: “As the battle-lines are drawn for the upcoming general election, I think it’s hugely positive that the political parties are now competing with each other to talk about their vision for patient care in general practice. It shows how far we’ve come, and that the campaign has shaped the debate and set the agenda. But we do need to make sure that general practice does not become a political football.”