2.5m patients across England may see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, creating a "catastrophic" impact on patient care, says RCGP

Publication date: 28 September 2018

More than 2.5 million patients across England may see their GP practice close in the next five years because of the high numbers of GPs at risk of leaving the profession – causing a "catastrophic" effect on patient care, the Royal College of GPs has warned today.

The College says drastic action must be taken to address the workload pressures that are making a career in general practice untenable – and for more initiatives to be implemented to increase retention of the GP workforce.

It is calling for an additional £2.5bn a year for general practice by 2020/21 as part of a 'radical overhaul' of NHS England's GP Forward View, to be funded as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS, announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year.

Without urgent investment, the RCGP fears that 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years because they are relying on a workforce where three-quarters of GPs are aged over 55 and therefore approaching retirement age.

Broken down by nation, this affects an estimated 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland.

In England, 2.5 million patients are at risk of seeing their practice close, with the five worst-affected Clinical Commissioning Group areas being Sandwell and West Birmingham (85,105 patients), Medway (52,330), Havering (49,761), Ealing (46,909) and Wigan Borough (43,640).

Chair of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said "These new figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK.

"GPs will always work their hardest to try to keep practices open, but the harsh reality is that fantastic, caring GPs are burning out, working in conditions that are unsafe for their own health and that of their patients.

"Workload in general practice is escalating, both in volume and complexity, yet the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago – and 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.

"If these GPs do leave, and these practices do close, it will have a catastrophic impact on our profession and the patient care we are able to provide. We have more GPs in training than ever before, but if we have more GPs leaving than entering the profession, we're fighting a losing battle.

"Decision makers need to think long and hard about how we can retain the GP workforce, and the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS – funded by the extra £20.5bn a year announced earlier this year – is the ideal opportunity to do so.

"We have seen some positive and innovative schemes, as part of the GP Forward View in England, such as the GP Career Plus scheme, but we need much more of this kind of thing, and on a bigger scale.

"Being a GP can be the best job in the world but only if general practice is properly resourced and provided with the adequate funding and resources to ensure we can deliver the highest quality care to our patients.

"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. But we also need to see an additional £2.5bn a year for general practice as part of the NHS long-term plan, to ensure that existing GPs and their teams are given the support and resources they need to deliver high-quality patient care both now and in the future."

Further Information

RCGP Press office: 020 3188 7633/7574/7575
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 52,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.

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