Millions of patients across England could see their GP surgeries close in the next five years, creating a catastrophic impact on patient care, the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) has warned.
According to figures from the college, more than 2.5 million patients could be affected by GP practice closures in the next five years because of the high numbers of GPs at risk of leaving the profession.
It said drastic action must be taken to address the workload pressures that are making a career in general practice untenable and for more initiatives to be implemented to increase retention.
It is calling for an additional £2.5bn a year for general practice by 2020/21.
Without investment, the RCGP estimates 762 practices across the UK could close over the next five years because they are relying on a workforce where three-quarters of GPs are aged over 55 and therefore approaching retirement age.
Broken down by nation, this affects an estimated 625 practices in England, 71 in Scotland, 37 in Wales and 29 in Northern Ireland.
In England, 2.5 million patients are at risk of seeing their practice close, with the five worst-affected clinical commissioning group areas being Sandwell and West Birmingham (85,105 patients), Medway (52,330), Havering (49,761), Ealing (46,909) and Wigan Borough (43,640).
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the figures paint an extremely bleak picture of the scale of the GP workforce crisis right across the UK.
“Workload in general practice is escalating, both in volume and complexity, yet the share of the NHS budget general practice receives is less than it was a decade ago – and our workforce is actually decreasing. As a result, many GPs are bringing forward their retirement plans because the pressures they are working under are untenable,” she warned.