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GPs join campaigners fighting to keep open the Katherine’s Dock GP surgery in east London
ENGLAND will lose more than 600 GP practices by 2022 without urgent investment, BMA analysis reveals.

More than 600 GP practices in England will be lost in the next four years if investment is not increased, according to analysis by the British Medical Association. The BMA has produced two projections based on the rate of practice closures and mergers over both the last six years, and between 2016 and 2017, which estimate that England is set to lose between 618 and 777 practices between now and 2022.

If these projections bear out, millions of patients will need to find a new practice.
According to NHS Digital1, there were 166 fewer practices in 2017 (7,361) compared to 2016 (7,527), while the total has fallen by 963 since 2010, when there were 8,324 practices in England. While the fall in numbers is partly due to mergers, many will have closed or been forced to merge as the result of the continued pressures on general practice, following a decade of underinvestment.
The BMA is now urging the prime minister, as part of her pledge to produce a long-term funding plan for the NHS, to address the historic underfunding of general practice.

Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said: ‘We have seen the devastating effect of practice closures over the last few years, with more than a million patients displaced since 20133, and now this analysis paints an even bleaker picture for the future. ‘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. ‘The latest workforce figures speak for themselves, and just yesterday, the Health Secretary finally admitted that his pledge to hire an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020 was unreachable.

‘In 2016 NHS England published its GP Forward View (GPFV), 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. ‘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.’

Dr Kailash Chand OBE, Chair healthwatch Tameside, and former deputy chair BMA council, commenting on the crisis in General Practice says ‘Pulse editor Jaimie Kaffash last week nailed the problem at the heart of the ongoing crisis unfolding in general practice, in pointing out that there is no political will to stop practice closures and that “The end game was always to dismantle general practice!”

‘I would argue that there is overwhelming evidence of a conspiracy to see off general practice for good, enacted by politicians from both major political parties over the past two decades. The agenda of privatisation started under the premiership of Margaret Thatcher continues unabated now with Theresa May. ‘And to privatise the health system, it is essential to dismantle the ‘jewel in the crown of the NHS’ – the current model of general practice. The groundwork to fragment general practice began with negotiation of the new GMS contract in 2004 by ‘New Labour’, under Tony Blair. The contract started a trend towards larger practices and federated models of working.

Private organisations entered the NHS to deliver general practice care under the new APMS contract, including multinational corporations such as United Healthcare and Virgin, as well as companies run by groups of GPs. These companies also started providing NHS walk-in centres, mobile screening units, occupational therapy and health visitors.

‘The primary responsibility for such private enterprises is to generate profit for their shareholders rather than care for patients. The commissioning system makes it easy for them to cherry-pick the services they bid to offer, so they can maximise their income from the NHS while minimising their costs.

‘I warned then of the dangers of this fragmentation and private delivery of services – and the need for GPs to unite to defend general practice. ‘Now it feels like history is repeating itself. The very fabric, ethos and future of the general practice are in jeopardy from the relentles s political assault.

The ‘sustainable transformation plans’ and ‘accountable care organisations’ are aiming to reduce our 8,000 GP surgeries down to 1,500 super-hubs. These changes imposed across NHS primary care by Jeremy Hunt and his colleagues are causing the meltdown of general practice, and will lead to its eventual destruction.

It is an ideological, dogmatic, non-evidence based approach that demonstrates the Government does not value the quality of general practice. It appears to be determined to move from traditional GP partnerships to one where the private sector will play a much greater part in the structure and running of primary care services. There is no evidence to support this concept, and the GP profession is already confused and exhausted by the constant reforms. GPs are leaving, and new entrants are declining to enter general practice. When I was a GP, our practice provided a 24-hour service, 365 days a year (yes, including bank holidays).

I was legally and morally responsible for the health of all our patients all the time and although it was sometimes tiring and occasionally frustrating, it was a responsibility that I and most of my GP colleagues took very seriously. GPs took pride in what they did, and were conscious they were the backbone of the health service.

For 70 years, GPs have cared for patients and their family from birth to death. They look after all their records and manage their entire healthcare. UK general practice is one of the best primary care systems in the world, admired and emulated by other countries. Proposals to turn our highly valued GP practices into healthcare hypermarkets mean a poorer quality of service, particularly for those in most need. The poor, the elderly and those with multiple illnesses – the very ones who are most in need of one doctor to co-ordinate their care – will lose the most.

It is no exaggeration to say that general practice in Britain has been dealt a death blow by an ill-thought political ideology. The proposed wholesale changes to primary care will destroy the personal continuity of care and replace it with a less effective and more expensive mishmash of ever-changing services and faces. The concept of ‘the family doctor’, so dear to the British public, will be lost forever.

The Prime Minister says she loves the NHS, but there’s a stark gap between her rhetoric and policy. She has promised a long-term funding deal to supposedly rejuvenate the NHS as it turns 70, but her policies – promoting the private sector and decimating general practice and social care – will signal an ending, not a new beginning.’


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