Almost 800 practices in the UK have closed in the past eight years, an exclusive investigation by Nursing in Practice’s sister title Pulse has found.
This has meant an estimated 2.5 million UK patients have been forced to moved practice, Pulse reported last week, with 96 of practices alone closing their doors last year, mostly in England.
The data, collected from responses to freedom of information (FOI) requests, sent by Pulse to CCGs and health boards across the UK, showed 778 UK practices have closed since 2013.
In 2013 Pulse found 18 shut their doors. The figures include full practice and branch closures, including from mergers.
Derby and Derbyshire LMC treasurer Dr Peter Holden told Pulse: ‘[There] are problems of succession, premises problems, or situations where a practice might have had too little investment for too long and is no longer viable, lists may be getting small, or people may retire.’
He added: ‘Handing back contracts is a phenomenon of the last five to seven years, and is usually driven by an inability to recruit and the workload issue.’
GPs said the same pressures as in previous years continued to cause closures in 2020, such as recruitment problems, high workload and insufficient premises. Nurses often taken on a lot of the workload when GPs are overstretched.
Nurses have reported having high workloads and feeling undervalued duringt the pandemic. A Nursing in Practice survey indicated 35% of GPNs were considering leaving their roles.
A report from an Institute for Public Policy Research, released in March this year, suggested nearly 30% of nurses and midwives were more likely to quit than a year ago.
Londonwide LMCs deputy chief executive Dr Lisa Harrod-Rothwell told Pulse more should have been done to avoid closures during the pandemic.
She said: ‘The fact any practice has not been given sufficient support to stave off closure during the biggest health crisis in decades is a worrying indictment of how much commissioners and regulators value the role of the GP and the trusted place of the practice in the community.’
Practices on the edge of closing need more support, especially during Covid-19, such as ‘addressing unresourced transfers of work from elsewhere in the system’, which ‘would both reduce burnout and release capacity for patient care’, Ms Harrod-Rothwell said.
BMA GP Committee deputy chair Dr Mark Sanford-Wood said: ‘The impact that this has both on patients and practice staff cannot be underestimated, which is why CCGs and NHS England need to provide struggling practices with all the support they need to stop them being forced to close.’
Commenting on the closures in 2020, an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘This small UK survey shows that – according to Pulse’s own previous claims – the reported reduction in practice numbers has stabilised at the same low percentage as last year, and was far lower than what Pulse claimed happened in 2016, 2017 or 2018.
‘While in some cases surgeries have merged with a nearby practice and in other cases a partner may have retired, it is clear that the allocation of a further £270 million to support practices over the past year has helped, together with support from primary care networks.’