Government plans to move general practice towards ‘super practices’ providing care at scale threaten closure for thousands of GP practices across England.
In a House of Commons debate, David Mowat, Junior Health Minister, revealed plans to switch care away from 7,500 GP practices across England, currently caring for average populations of around 7,000 patients, to larger units, creating 1,500 ‘super-hubs’ in the coming years.
The Health Minister told MPs: ‘We are finding that things are working better with GP practices being put into hubs of 35,000 to 40,000 people. They are able to employ pharmacists and physios and do more things at scale than they could as a single GP practice or as a practice of two or three GPs, which has historically been the norm.’
Mr Mowat praised the introduction of ‘super practices’ in Dudley which have tens, possibly hundreds, of GPs working together to provide care over large areas.
Since 2012, more than 550 GP surgeries have closed in England, with remaining surgeries expanding to take thousands more patients. Official statistics show that the average list size has risen by 18% in the past 10 years.
However, health officials last night insisted the plans would not necessarily mean closures, and said the creation of some super-hubs would simply mean groups of GP surgeries working together to support larger populations of 40,000 patients.
To date, some sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) have set out plans to co-locate practices, moving them to new premises and shutting down existing practices.
In Dorset, officials recently drew up proposals to reduce the number of GP locations from 131 to as few as 36, a reduction in over 70% of GP practice sites across the county.
Patient groups have expressed concerns over the planned changes. Joyce Robins from Patient Concern said the changes were ‘alarming’ and raised fears that vulnerable patients would receive worse care and be forced to travel long distances.
Deputy Chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, Dr Richard Vaughtry, said: ‘The connection that local GPs have with patients is one of the things patients value most highly. We break that at our peril.’
Chairman of the Royal College of GPs, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said she was concerned about the pace of change: ‘Our population is growing and changing, with our patients living longer and increasingly with multiple, long-term conditions, so we certainly need to explore and adopt different ways of working in order to best deal with these changes, but the magnitude and pace of the change being floated here seems extreme.’