GP shortage closes surgeries - even as patients desperately await appointments

There's a warning tonight that one of the pillars of the NHS, the doctor's surgery, is under threat as never before, as Emily Morgan reports

If there is anything that proves we don’t have enough doctors in this country, it’s the closure of surgeries.

Well today, the magazine, Pulse, has published figures that pretty much prove we don’t have enough doctors. In an investigation, it found nearly 500 surgeries have closed, and not reopened elsewhere, since 2013.

That’s hundreds of surgeries that hundreds of patients once relied on. What’s happened to those patients and why did the surgeries close?

Pulse says 14% of closures were down to recruitment issues. I went to talk to a GP today in Kingston and he explained in detail why recruitment was so tough.

In essence, doctors don’t want to go in general practice anymore - the workload is too great and IF they do end up as a GP, a large number of them work part-time.

We’re talking about young, newly qualified doctors choosing to work part-time because the pressures are so great they don’t want to be full-time. With huge numbers retiring early, surgeries can’t find replacements.

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There is an argument that pooling resources and amalgamating surgeries offers patients better services. That is what the Primary Care Network aims to achieve, some of the bigger doctors can stay open later or at weekends.

Ultimately, though, if smaller surgeries close and aren’t replaced, it’s the patients who will suffer. They will get sucked into bigger services, further away.

Appointments might be harder to get, they will lose their trusted family doctor and may have to travel much further.

For the elderly, who need doctors more, this is a worrying situation. It may also force patients to go to A&E when actually all they need is a GP.

The government’s solution was to promise 6,000 more doctors by 2024. That was a manifesto promise that seems to have been forgotten.

Today, the Department of Health reassured us that 1,500 more GPs were working now compared to 2019 - way off the 6,000 they promised and it doesn’t look like that figure will be reached.

Experts say a workforce plan is needed urgently. The former Health Secretary Sajid Javid promised us it was coming but left the role before it did. It will be one of the first things in any new permanent health secretary’s in-tray when a government forms.

The scale of the workforce crisis, many say, is so big it will take years to address, but now is the time to deal with it. We are an aging population and never has the GP been so important.