More than one million people have been forced to change GP because of surgery closures or mergers over the past five years, a new report suggests.
Data obtained by GP magazine Pulse found 445 GP practices shut due to closures or mergers between 2013 and 2017, resulting in a rising number of patients being displaced.
So what should you do if you’re one of those affected?
First of all you need to find out if your doctor’s surgery is closing outright or merging with another one. Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told HuffPost UK: “Sometimes, a ‘closure’ is actually due to a practice merging, or becoming part of a federation with other practices nearby, so that it can pool resources in the best interests of patient care.”
If the surgery is merging, patients won’t be removed from the practice list, so the process should be “seamless” and won’t require them to do much.
“But sometimes, a practice is forced to close because the practice team simply can’t cope with the resource and workforce pressures they are facing, and this can have serious ramifications for patients, neighbouring surgeries, and the health and wellbeing of the GPs involved,” Stokes-Lampard added.
If your practice is closing then you will need to re-register with another practice. Stokes-Lampard said it’s crucial that patients understand the process of re-registering to ensure “as smooth a transition as possible and minimal disruption to their care”.
“The local Clinical Commissioning Group should write to patients a few months in advance of the closure to notify them of the options and what to do,” she said.
She added that all UK residents have a legal right to choose a surgery if they are within its boundary area, subject to that practice having capacity to take more patients on. This radius is unique to each area, in a similar way to how school catchment areas work. Speak to the specific GP practice about this if you want to know more.
For people who need emergency care but haven’t yet registered with a new GP, they can still contact their nearest practice for urgent treatment, but will need to sign up properly if care is needed for more than 14 days.
If you can’t access urgent treatment at your GP surgery then a walk-in centre is the next best place. They tend to deal with minor injuries though, so anything more serious such as mental health problems should be dealt with by a GP and anything extremely urgent should be treated in A&E or by paramedics after calling 999.
The problem with closures is that many will struggle to find a new surgery, particularly those who live in rural areas and have to rely on public transport to get to their appointments.
With elderly people, who may need to see their doctor more often, this could be particularly problematic as they won’t necessary have the funds to travel to their nearest practice.
“That’s why we urgently need to see NHS England’s GP Forward View, which promises an extra £2.4bn a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2020, delivered, in full - and similar promises made and delivered in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need and deserve, regardless of where they live,” said Stoke-Lampard.
When asked about the closures an NHS England spokesperson refused to offer advice but said more than 3,000 GP practices have received extra support “thanks to a £27 million investment over the past two years and there are plans to help hundreds more this year. NHS England is beginning to reverse historic underinvestment with an extra £2.4 billion going into general practice each year by 2021, a 14% rise in real-terms.”