Without urgent investment, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is predicting that 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years as three-quarters of the GP workforce approaches retirement age. The College says such a situation would have a "catastrophic" effect on patient care.
The RCGP estimates that 625 practices in England face possible closer, as do 71 practices in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland. In England, 2.5 million patients would be affected, with the five worst-affected Clinical Commissioning Group areas being Sandwell and West Birmingham, Medway, Havering, Ealing and Wigan Borough.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the RCGP, said: "These new figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK.
"Workload in general practice is escalating, both in volume and complexity, yet the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago – and our workforce is actually decreasing. As a result, many GPs are bringing forward their retirement plans because the pressures they are working under are untenable.
"If these GPs do leave, and these practices do close, it will have a catastrophic impact on our profession and the patient care we are able to provide. We have more GPs in training than ever before, but if we have more GPs leaving than entering the profession, we're fighting a losing battle."
The College is calling for an additional £2.5 billion a year for general practice by 2020/21 as part of a “radical overhaul” of NHS England's GP Forward View, to be funded as part of the forthcoming long-term plan for the NHS, announced by the Prime Minister earlier this year.