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Millions could lose GP next year as staff shortages and stress force doctors to close surgeries, study claims

This article was taken from: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/doctor-shortages-nhs-gp-surgery-closed-england-figures-number-stress-a8663536.html

By Tom Barnes at the Indepedent news

Survey suggests hundreds in England could walk away from profession next year citing poor working conditions

Millions of patients could lose their GP surgery within the next 12 months as factors such as stress contribute to a shortage of doctors, a new study has warned.

More than 350 practices in England alone could face closure within a year as doctors quit the profession over working conditions, according to a new survey by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RSGP).

In its study of 1,094 doctors across England, the RSGP found almost a third said they would not be working in general practice in five years, with stress and retirement cited as the most common reasons.

A total of 37 per cent of doctors surveyed said there were GP vacancies at their surgery that had been open for at least three months.

Five per cent of respondents said their practice was likely to close within the space of a year and would not merge with another surgery.

The figures were described as “gravely concerning” by the college’s chair, Helen Stokes-Lampard, who warned more GPs would walk away unless something is done to combat stress and reduce workloads.

“All GPs are overworked, many are stressed, and some are making themselves seriously ill working hours that are simply unsafe, for both themselves and their patients – it is making them want to leave the profession,” Dr Stokes-Lampard said.

“It is forcing some GPs to hand back their keys and close their surgeries for good.

“This is having a serious impact on many of our patients, who are waiting longer and longer to secure a GP appointment.”

Of the 7,148 surgeries operating in England according to the most recent NHS figures released in July 2018, some 357 could face closure if the RSGP survey proves to be an accurate representation of the situation across the board.

With each surgery in the country now retaining an average of 8,279 patients on its books, almost 3 million people could be left without a doctor if 350 practices did close next year.

More than 260 GP surgeries closed their doors in England in the year between July 2017 and July 2018.

”About a third of the GPs we surveyed said they were unlikely to be working in general practice in five years’ time. This is gravely concerning,” Dr Stokes-Lampard added.

“We are talking about highly-trained, highly-skilled doctors, that the NHS is at risk of losing – some will retire, which is to be expected, but many are planning to leave earlier than they otherwise would have done because of stress and the intense pressures they face on a day-to-day basis, whilst simply trying to do their best for their patients.”

In 2015, the government pledged to recruit 5,000 more GPs by 2020.

However, the RSGP said despite an increase in GP numbers in the 12 months to September 2018, overall general practice doctor numbers had dropped by 460 since 2005.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “GPs are the bedrock of the NHS and last week the prime minister set out a major new investment in primary and community healthcare – worth an extra £3.5bn a year in real terms by 2023/24.

“This year a record 3,473 doctors were recruited into GP training and we are determined to recruit an extra 5,000 doctors into general practice.”

Additional reporting by PA