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Figures showing the alarming rate of surgery closures prove why it’s vital for the UK to look after its GPs, according to the Medical Defense Society.

A recent Pulse investigation showed that GP surgeries are shutting at a record rate, with further analysis of the data showing how coastal and rural areas are worst affected.

Pulse found that 138 GP practices closed their doors in 2018, affecting half a million patients. For context, there were just 18 closures in 2013. The rate of closures looks to have continued in 2019 too, with 12 in the first month alone, compared to eight at the same time in 2018.

The closures come on the back of a sustained fall in GP numbers as the profession faces  challenges with recruitment and resourcing. Many practices are also merging, with smaller surgeries becoming part of larger practices.

‘It’s crucial that we look after our GPs’

MDS CEO Rohan Simon said: “These figures are alarming and should further serve to highlight how crucial it is that the UK looks after its existing GPs.

“No-one wants to see surgeries close, especially not in such high numbers, and one important way to do that is to ensure the skilled people employed in our profession have the support they need.

“MDS was set up in by GPs in order to cater for the specific needs of GPs and we’re acutely aware of the pressures they face and the support they need to be able to do their jobs.

“We’re constantly working with our members to ensure their needs are met and we’d support any efforts to reverse this trend. We’re also prepared to work with surgeries to help with their recruitment and retention challenges.”

Mergers contribute to GP closure figures

NHS England said there were fewer practice closures and patient dispersals in the 2017/18 financial year compared to 2016/17. It said it supports GPs through the resilience programme.

In 2017/18, 62% of GP contract closures were due to mergers and the rest due to practice closures. Smaller surgeries were the most likely to close in 2018 – with practices serving 5,000 or fewer patients accounting for 86% of closures.

Royal College of GPs chair Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard told The Guardian: “GPs and our teams are working to our absolute limits to provide safe, high-quality care, while general practice is under intense pressure, and this is resulting in some GPs leaving the profession, and in other cases forcing them to close their surgery doors.

“In some areas, practice closures are the result of surgeries merging or joining federations in order to pool their resources and provide additional services in the best interests of their patient population.”

GP issues in coastal and rural areas

Further analysis of the results suggests that coastal and rural communities have felt the impact of the loss of GP surgeries most keenly.

It emerged that 1,946 villages are now at least three miles away from their nearest GP practice. That’s 162 more than two years ago – with some patients now 14 miles away from a GP in rural areas.

The issues with recruitment are exacerbated in rural areas – with someone younger doctors less likely to want to relocate away from towns and cities.

Prof Stokes-Lampard explained: “Rural, coastal and deprived areas always struggle the most to attract GPs, but with a national shortage, they are being hardest hit. They are the canary in the mine for a problem across the country.”

Looking after the nation’s GPs

MDS is keen to hear from GPs who feel that their existing indemnity costs are prohibitively high. We can work with GP surgeries to see how we can support recruitment and retention in rural and coastal areas.

MDS is determined to look after the interests of all GPs and provides indemnity that has their specific needs in mind, with a clear mission statement to defend GPs’ interests.

If you wish to find out more about how we can provide the cover and support you need as a GP, contact us today.