250,000 patients are to go elsewhere due to an increasing number of GP surgeries closing ahead of a tax clampdown on their pension pots, new figures reveal.
In total, the number of practices closing has risen a staggering 500% since 2013.
Senior doctors have said that communities are being left bereft, with elderly patients increasingly having to endure long journeys just to see a GP and experiencing longer waiting times.
This mass exodus follows a series of tax clampdowns on pensions, which have seen a sharp increase in the number of GPs retiring early, and reducing their tax burden.
Since 2012, the cap on what pension savers can amass without being taxed has been cut from £1.8 million to £1 million.
Meanwhile, the number of doctors retiring or going part-time is not being matched by that of new recruits.
In the last year alone, the number of family GPs has fallen by approximately 400, despite targets to increase numbers by 5,000 amid increasing demand.
The new figures, from Pulse magazine, shows that the number of closures of GP practices has risen dramatically since 2013.
In total, 92 practices shut their doors to the public last year, with 57 shutting down completely. The rest have closed as a result of mergers into “super-surgeries”. This compares with only 20 such closures in 2013.
As a result, nearly 265,000 patients saw their practice close last year. This compares with just 43,000 less than five years ago.
The investigation shows some areas have been severely affected, with the Brighton District losing seven surgeries in two years.
Last month, ministers announced plans for the country’s 7,500 remaining surgeries to become 1,500 “superhubs”.
Health officials claim the move will not see the closure of thousands of practices, saying that existing surgeries will be working more closely together.
But the new figures show a sharp rise in closures already underway, while the average list size has risen by almost 20% in a decade.
GP leaders said the situation was a “tragedy” amid claims the NHS is “falling apart at the seams.”
We spoke to 53-year-old Brighton and Hove resident Shirley Ashe who had been going to the same surgery since she was a child.
“I’m not in the best of health,” she said. “My local surgery closed down nearly six months ago, and I have to take the bus to the nearest surgery, which is about half an hour away. That in itself isn’t so bad, though I suffer with my knee, so any sort of travelling is difficult. But I worry more for the elderly folk around here who simply can’t get out. What’s going to happen to them? There was talk of the local council running a ‘pick-up’ service to get them to their appointments but, as usual, that never happened”.
Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said that the situation has become devastating for some patients.
“There is a critical shortage of GPs and we are getting to the point where it will be impossible to see one,” she said.
“Older patients will be the worst hit. Many can’t travel and have been seeing the same doctor for 30 or 40 years, and who knows their medical conditions. It’s them I worry about.”