Fears have been raised for the future of GP services after figures revealed that 280 practices in England have either closed or merged with each other in just 18 months.
The figure includes 37 GP practices in Yorkshire and Humber, raising fears that staff shortages and rising workloads on family doctors are leading to the loss of services in the region.
Figures released by NHS Digital show that nationally, around 15 practices a month merged or closed between July 2016 and the end of last year.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) said practices sometimes merged to pool resources. Mike Holmes, a GP in York and RCGP vice chairman, said: “But if these practices in Yorkshire and Humber are closing because they can’t cope with growing demand, or because they can’t recruit enough GPs, then it is very concerning, and the impact will be felt across the NHS.
“Unfortunately this reflects the pressures that general practice is facing across the board in terms of intense workload, workforce challenges and years of under-investment in our service.”
Latest NHS England figures show that of 2,573 Yorkshire and Humber doctors who declared their age, 980 GPs were aged 50 or over.
Dr Holmes said: “Another concern is the number of practising GPs who are approaching retirement age and are thinking about leaving the profession.”
Five Yorkshire CCGs - East Riding, Scarborough, Rotherham, Bradford and Sheffield - confirmed that more practices had applied or been given permission to merge. In Leeds, the closure of Green Road Surgery, Meanwood, has just been announced, and a decision is due on the future of GP services in Swillington, Rothwell and Middleton.
In Wrenthorpe, Wakefield, the village surgery is under threat after its parent practice applied for closure. It met with a backlash last summer and around 140 people signed a petition.
Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns said: “Closing the surgery has the potential to drastically affect health provision for all residents in the area, not only those in Wrenthorpe but also those in Outwood and surrounding areas.”
A Wakefield CCG spokesman said: “Any proposals from practices to merge or close any element of the services they provide, requires a full business case and robust evidence of patient engagement and consultation.”
NHS England has pledged an extra £2.4bn a year for general practice and 5,000 more GPs by 2021 as part of its GP Forward View.