Senior GPs have warned Jeremy Hunt they will stop accepting new patients unless they are given more money.
The British Medical Association has told the Health Secretary that surgeries across England are prepared to close their lists ‘en masse’.
In a strongly-worded letter, the union claims that up to £12billion promised by the Government last Spring has failed to materialise.
Patient demand is ‘unprecedented’, GPs are retiring or quitting and surgery buildings are falling apart, it adds.
The letter, signed by Dr Richard Vautrey, head of the BMA’s GP Committee, states that it is ‘no wonder’ doctors are considering suspending their lists.
‘Practices are reaching the point where closing their lists seems the only viable way to ensure patient safety,’ it states.
Angry doctors are threatening to shut their doors to new patients unless the cash-strapped NHS is pumped with more money
Surgeries across England are overwhelmed due to the rising and aging population on top of a national shortage of GPs.
The Government has repeatedly promised to recruit an extra 5,000 family doctors by 2020/21 but the most recent figures shows they are quitting at a rate of 400 a month.
Many are retiring in their 50s, moving abroad or leaving to work in the private sector.
The BMA is also angry that a proposed ‘rescue package’ for surgeries outlined by NHS bosses last April has failed to deliver.
This promised an extra £2.4 billion for general practice every year until 2020/21 to spend on additional doctors and other staff and upgrading surgery buildings.
But according to the letter, this money is ‘failing to reach frontline primary care services in a way that makes a tangible difference.’
GPs are willing to close their waiting lists
Only last month the BMA carried out a survey of 1,870 of senior ‘partner’ GPs which found that 54 per cent were willing to close their lists to new patients.
They can legally do this as long as they obtain approval from local NHS managers on the grounds that patient safety is at risk by surgeries being overwhelmed.
Some practices have already started applying to close their lists including all seven in the town of Folkestone in Kent, which claim they are overwhelmed.
But the BMA’s letter to Mr Hunt – which is published on its website – may encourage many others to start proceedings.
The British Medical Association has told Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt that surgeries across England are prepared to close their lists ‘en masse’
The Department of Health urged the union to consider the ‘detrimental effect’ that mass list closures would have on patients across England.
If large numbers of surgeries were to close their lists collectively, patients moving to a new area would struggle to register with a family doctor.
They may have to travel to the next town or area before they could find a surgery which was still accepting new patients.
Facing huge pressures
But Dr Vautrey’s letter states that GPs are facing ‘huge pressures’ and would only consider closing their lists as a ‘final recourse.’
MARCH OF THE GP RECEPTIONIST
Patients trying to see a GP are being screened by receptionists in a controversial scheme designed to cut the number of appointments.
Under an NHS drive to free up doctors’ time, clerical staff are being trained as ‘care navigators’.
They are being sent on a half-day course and taught how to direct patients to other health professionals, including nurses, pharmacists or physiotherapists.
The scheme was devised to reduce ‘avoidable’ appointments and is gradually being adopted by surgeries across England.
GPs say up to a quarter of consultations are unnecessary and taken up by patients who could look after themselves at home or see another health professional.
‘With unprecedented patient demand, a recruitment and retention crisis, huge workforce shortfalls and major practice premises problems, it is no wonder that GPs are having to consider action such as suspending their patient lists.’
He also warns that GPs are having to pay out higher insurance fees just to be able to practice, known as ‘indemnity costs.’
These bills have risen steadily in recent years in line with the boom of no-win, no-fee lawyers which mean patients are more likely sue.
It’s not a light decision, warn experts
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘That practice-list closures on a wide scale are even being considered is an indication of just how pressurised general practice is at the moment – and how downtrodden GPs and our teams across the country are feeling.
‘Closing a practice list is not a decision any GP would make lightly, and certainly if they were not seriously concerned about their ability to cope with their increasing workload and deliver care to patients safely.
Patients could suffer without the funding
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, warned that patients would suffer unless surgeries receive more funding.
‘As GP numbers continue to slide, it is patients who will lose out. General practice is very often the key route into the NHS for patients, so it is essential that it should be sustainable.’ She said.
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘GPs are a vital part of the NHS and we understand the pressures they face – that’s why we’ve committed an extra £2.4 billion of funding by 2020/21 and are working closely with the sector to improve patient care and services.
‘We would urge the British Medical Association to consider the impact of list closures and the detrimental effect it could have on communities across the country.’