Hundreds of GP surgeries in England will be forced to close over the next four years unless general practice receives greater investment, the BMA has warned.
The association predicted that between 618 and 777 practices in England could have shut their doors for good by 2022, while recent figures from NHS Digital revealed that the number of practices in England fell from 7,527 in 2016 to 7,361 last year.
The prediction is based on the rate of mergers and closures of practices over the last six years, and is one of a number of serious concerns highlighted by a BMA review of the Government’s GP Forward View, two years on from its launch.
The other sources of worry highlighted by the report include that funding for general practice remains £3.7bn shy of the 11 per cent target of total NHS funding outlined in the GPFV.
In addition, despite the success of some of the GPFV’s recruitment initiatives such as the ‘targeted enhanced recruitment’ and ‘induction and refresher’ schemes, the BMA’s report warns that too few GPs are entering the profession.
The GPFV had pledged to boost GP recruitment to 3,250 a year, with a record 3,157 entering training in 2017. However, national workforce figures have revealed the total number of FTE (full-time equivalent) trainee GPs has fallen by almost eight per cent since 2016.
BMA GPs committee chair Richard Vautrey said that practice closures had seen more than a million patients displaced since 2013, and the prospect of further reductions would only spell further disruption.
Dr Vautrey said the BMA’s analysis showed that the GPFV was struggling to make enough of an impact on addressing the root challenges impacting the profession.
‘In 2016 NHS England published its GP Forward View, outlining a number of measures aimed at improving primary care provision and the working lives of doctors, but two years on, it’s clear that it is struggling to deliver on its promises, leaving most of the profession unconvinced that the plan will make a material difference to their workload pressures,’ he said.
‘Patients already face unacceptably long waits for appointments, and without urgent government action and significantly more investment this will only get worse as millions more are left without a practice and struggling to find a new one.
‘As GPs face the mounting pressures of increased demand, unmanageable workloads and lack of resources, more and more are leaving the profession or handing back their contracts. At the same time, too many medical school graduates are seeing the situation unfold in general practice and understandably choosing other specialties.’
He added: ‘While progress has been made in a number of areas, GPFV has failed to make a big enough impact on the recruitment and retention crisis, and has been unable, so far, to make any significant inroad into the unmanageable daily workload within general practice. Furthermore, despite frequent requests from the BMA, NHS England is yet to clarify whether its spending promises are on track.
‘Overall, our research provides further evidence that general practice remains in critical condition.’