ONE HUNDRED and thirty-eight GP surgeries shut last year, compared to 18 the previous year, the latest GP workforce figures from NHS Digital show, prompting the BMA to ring the alarm bell over the crisis facing general practice.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘These figures do show a recent rise in overall GP numbers, including those in training, but it is nowhere near sufficient to deal with the reality of what is needed to address the crisis facing general practice.
‘The steady increase in patient demand coupled with hundreds fewer full-time equivalent GPs means that practices across the country are being placed under tremendous pressure and leaving too many patients waiting too long to see their GP.
‘Whilst there has been a modest increase in the number of salaried GPs in practices, worryingly, the number of GP partners continues to show a stark decline highlighting the pressures faced by partners, who take on risks that are increasingly seen as outweighing the benefits of running their own practices.
‘Punitive tax payments related to the current pensions arrangements are also having a serious impact on the retention of these GPs and must be addressed quickly by government.’
Meanwhile, GPs are being advised by their accountants to cut clinical hours to avoid extra pension charges, the BMA GP Committee chair has warned.
The BMA has been raising the issue with the Treasury, and are calling for changes to the pension scheme to ensure GPs can continue seeing patients without being penalised.
Dr Vautrey said this is a ‘really big problem’ that does not just impact older GPs, as many younger GPs are now being advised to cut hours.
He said: ‘The issue relates to the annual allowance relating to pension contributions. Many people may think this is a problem for older GPs near retirement, but the big problem is the loss of service from younger doctors.
‘They are being told by accountants and financial advisors that if they are working full-time – nine sessions a week typically – and their earnings are above a certain level, then they will be penalised on an annual basis.
‘They are being advised that the best way to tackle this is to reduce their clinical commitment, reduce their earnings, and thereby protect themselves.’
Dr Vautrey continued: ‘Doctors in their 30s who have potentially another 30 years to offer the NHS, we are losing them each and every year.
‘It’s having a major impact and it’s one of the reasons why we are struggling to offer enough appointments to our patients.
‘This is one of the big factors driving the shift towards part-time working. It’s almost costing GPs to work, because of these punitive charges.
‘We have to remove this disincentive for doctors that want and are willing to work.’
Vautrey said the issue is being repeatedly raised by GPs.