Patients are being turned away from GP surgeries in England due to a lack of staff, according to the British Medical Association (BMA).
Scores of practices across the UK have reached “breaking point” as they struggle to recruit staff, with some reportedly offering ‘golden hellos’ of up to £10,000 to attract new doctors.
A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed that at least 100 surgeries applied to NHS England for permission to stop accepting new patients in 2014/15. Just under half of those that applied to stop taking on patients were either denied permission or withdrew their requests.
NHS England, which is investing £15m to boost the GP workforce, said: "When we receive a request to close a GP practice list, we consider both the impact on patients as well as on neighbouring practices and services to avoid displacing a problem elsewhere."
Commenting on the unprecedented pressure GP surgeries across England are currently facing, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “GP services are reaching breaking point as they struggle to cope with rising patient demand, falling resources and a shortage of GPs. Closing their list is the only option to maintain safe care to their local community.”
Figures in November revealed that almost 300 surgeries were indicating on the NHS Choices website - which provides patients with information about local surgeries - that they were no longer registering new patients.
Last year, a BBC Inside Out survey of more than 1,000 GPs, found that 56 per cent of doctors expected to leave the profession before the age of 60. The investigation revealed a chronic shortage of GPs across the country, with the number of unfilled posts quadrupling over three years, and it taking an average of more than five months to fill partnership vacancies.
There were more than 600 GP trainee posts left vacant in 2015, and a third of the existing workforce is expected to retire in the next five years.
It is very concerning that so many patients are struggling to access the specialist care they need because they are being turned away from GP surgeries due to a lack of available staff. Underinvestment and over-regulation are all helping to threaten general practice and put patients’ health at risk. Doing more to support the GP workforce by addressing work life balance concerns, engaging young doctors and taking steps to combat unsustainable workloads will help towards reducing stress and tackling recruitment problems.
Claire White is a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.