The current NHS funding crisis has resulted in a record number of GP practices having to close, forcing thousands of patients to find a new GP surgery despite government attempts to stop this.

New data from NHS England shows that there has been a 114% increase in the number of GP closures from 2014 compared to 2016. Nearly one hundred practices closed in 2016, however, of these, 34 have merged with other local practices in order to pool resources.

Due to this, 265,000 patients have had to change their practice and many will now have to travel even further to receive care. One such area, Brighton, was particularly badly affected with four practice closures, leaving 9,000 patients displaced. The city has seen the closure of seven centres within the past two years. 

Closures occur despite investment

The new information comes despite the NHS GP forward view plan, which came into effect last year and promised to invest an annual £2.4 billion into GP services by 2020. The government also announced a rescue package in the form of £500 million, which included £16 million to support vulnerable practices.

According to an NHS England spokesperson, “As part of our plans to improve general practice services and boost the workforce, many practices are choosing to merge in order to offer patients a much greater range of services.”

However, the closures have renewed fears that family doctors are unable to cope with the rising demands of an ageing and increasing population and that government funding is not being targeted and utilised correctly.

“The tragedy is clinical commissioning groups have not delivered their part in making the resources available,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee. “Many practices that should have received support have had none to date. That’s been a failing of local delivery.”

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that the closures have resulted in “serious consequences for patient safety and the wellbeing of hard-working family doctors and their practice teams.”

NHS may have to resort to private investments

The closures also come at a time when the NHS is looking at borrowing money from private investment companies and land sales to pay for the repairs and equipment of hospitals. The NHS is hoping to borrow up to £10 billion.

Government approval is required for this however. More than 800 places with plans for modernisation have been picked for investment by 2019 to provide doctors with up to date medical technology to improve care for cancer and mental illness.

However as Jim Mackey, chief executive of NHS Improvement, noted, “we are constrained by rigid rules around borrowing that prevent us from taking action.”

A review into NHS property highlighted a £10 billion infrastructure funding gap and said without investment, it “will remain unfit for purpose and will continue to deteriorate”.

Author of the report and former head of the University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust, Robert Naylor, told ministers that “substantial capital investment” was required to improve the NHS services. Hence, on top of money from the Treasury, funds could be raised through land sales and private capital for changes to GP surgeries to help keep elderly people out of hospital, he said. MIMS

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