Fears for future of rural GP practices as Government wields funding axe

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AROUND 100 GP practices could be forced to close due to cuts in national funding, leaving patients in rural areas without a GP, doctors’ leaders have warned.

Changes to how practices are paid mean some could no longer be viable, despite the fact some “provide vital services to thousands of rural patients”, the British Medical Association (BMA) said. It warned that large areas of rural England could be left with no GP practice for local residents.

The Government has decided to phase out a funding arrangement called the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG) over a seven-year period, beginning in April.

MPIG means many smaller GP practices are guaranteed a minimum level of funding that is not dependent on the number of patients on their practice list.

NHS England has published an anonymised list of 98 ‘outlier’ practices that could lose more than £3 per patient per year. Some practices on the list will lose more than £100 per patient per year while others stand to lose around £20 or £30 per patient.

Officials have refused a request by the Yorkshire Post to name those worst hit, claiming the details were “commercially sensitive” as GPs compete with each other.

NHS England denies that phasing out MPIG has a disproportionate impact on practices in rural areas. It argues that rural practices make up less than 15 per cent of the 98, while accounting for 18 per cent of all practices in England.

The BMA said that in addition to the 98, there are a “significant number” of other practices that will be severely affected.

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “The Government has seriously misjudged the potential impact of its funding changes, especially on rural GP services. It is likely 
that a few hundred practices will lose noticeable levels of funding, with 98 practices identified by NHS England as being at 
serious risk from severe cuts in their financial support that could threaten their ability to remain open.

“This comes at a time when GP practices are already under pressure from rising workload and declines in overall levels of funding.

“These GPs provide vital services to patients in areas where accessing healthcare is already not easy because of the large distances patients have to travel to get to their local NHS services. If these practices were to close it could leave large geographical areas without a nearby GP practice.”