Rural doctors’ surgeries face mass closures unless the next government reverses funding cuts which are destined to bring further hardship to elderly and vulnerable people, campaigners have warned.
ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) said that Yorkshire could lose up to a fifth of its GP practices as the funding cuts are phased in over seven years as part of changes to the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG).
The charity, which speaks on behalf of England’s rural community councils, called for the funding to be reinstated in its new 2015 election manifesto.
Nick Chase, ACRE’s head of rural insight, said: “The loss of any surgery in an isolated rural area will cause hardship to elderly and vulnerable residents.
“Rural communities are home to 25 per cent of all older people and with the percentage of over-85s set to double in the next 20 years, provision of local healthcare for our ageing population is crucial.”
Older people in rural areas face the most acute problems when local surgeries close, Mr Chase said.
“In rural areas, 35 per cent of pensioner households have no access to a car. With cuts in public transport, they are often forced to rely on friends, family and overstretched volunteers.”
MPIG is a top-up payment given to some general practices since 2004. In 2014/15, NHS England began a seven-year plan to phase out the payment in a review of how GP surgeries are paid for their services.
Mr Chase said the withdrawal of MPIG will, according to a survey of ACRE’s network members, see at least 10 per cent of rural surgeries in Devon face closure and in Cornwall, 20 per cent would lose significant income.
He added: “We do not have specific numbers for Yorkshire but using our more detailed evidence from Cornwall and Devon we would expect between 10 per cent and 20 per cent to be affected to a greater or lesser degree.”
Councillor John Blackie, leader of Richmondshire District Council, who represents the county’s most deeply rural communities, said the withdrawal of MPIG meant the Hawes and Aysgarth GP Practice in the Upper Dales loses £78,000 of funds annually.
Coun Blackie said: “MPIG must be restored in full after the Election otherwise rural de-population will simply accelerate and our fear of deeply rural communities collapsing before our very eyes will become a reality.”
The withdrawal of MPIG comes as NHS investment in general practice is falling and workloads are rising, Dr Richard Vautrey, Leeds-based deputy chairman of the British Medical Association’s GP committee, said.
“In addition this loss of money means practices have less funding for staff and it will make the recruitment of much needed new GPs doubly difficult,” he said.
The Department of Health moved to reassure rural communities, with a spokesman telling The Yorkshire Post: “NHS England is providing support to help the most affected practices adjust to changes to primary care funding arrangements.
“The money released by phasing out MPIG is being reinvested in the basic payments to all General Medical Services practices, which are based on numbers of patients and key determinants of practice workload such as patient age, health needs and the unavoidable costs of rurality.”