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Through the Fog of a Failing System, GP Practices offer a Beacon of Light

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Last month, a poll by Londonwide LMCs produced the startling statistic that almost a third of London’s GP practices are, in one way or another, considering closing down. When asked how likely it was that they would terminate their NHS contract within the next three years:

- 3% said they planned to terminate;

- 13% said they were considering it;

- 15% refused to rule it out.

What this could mean for Londoners is that a minimum of 88,000 patients will need to find a new patient in the next three years, and only two in every three GP practices are safe from voluntary closure.

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Are employee shortages to blame for the crisis in London practices?

The same survey found that one in three practices are short of at least one GP. Almost half have at least one GP planning to retire within three years.

Perhaps it is these numbers behind the high percentage of practices considering closing: a third have at least one GP vacancy, and a third may be closing within three years. A coincidence? We think not.

We’ve written before about the difficulty of hiring doctors, and the emerging crisis in primary care caused by falling GP trainee numbers. The potential results – the threat of GP closures – that have been on the cards for several years would appear to be coming to fruition.

For all its big ideas and promises of improving recruitment and retention, NHS England’s Forward View is having no effect. GP numbers are down. Trainee numbers are down. When asked how they planned to tackle the shortage of GPs, London’s practices mostly said they were considering employing extra locum staff or undertaking succession planning.

Demoralisation doesn’t equal deteriorating services

The Londonwide LMC survey paints a gloomy picture. Clearly, taken as a group, GP practices should be a highly demoralised group. The LMC survey results would probably be replicated across the country (more or less). Under current working conditions, you would expect productivity to be collapsing and patient satisfaction numbers following. It’s a sign of the dedication of GPs and practice staff that this isn’t the case.

Clearly, many GPs are under stress. Many are unhappy with the situation in which they have found themselves. Yet patient satisfaction numbers are rising. The LMC’s 2016 GP patient survey – based upon the responses of over 800,000 people in England – show that:

- more than 85% of patients rate their experiences with their GP practice as good or better; and

- 80% of patients would recommend their GP to others; and

- three quarters are happy with the opening hours.

GP closures may be at record levels, and government policy may be failing to recruit and retain new GPs. But clearly, as far as delivery of services, maintenance of quality, and providing the services that patients need are concerned, England’s GP practices, and the doctors and staff that work in them continue to deliver. They should be commended for their fortitude and dedication in the face of adversity.

If you have any questions or feedback, please do not hesitate to contact me -alex.henman@esuppliesmedical.co.uk - 01865 261451

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