Rural doctors could 'disappear'

GOVERNMENT cuts and rising workloads mean rural doctors and GP surgeries could disappear, an MP has warned.

Changes to the funding formula could leave smaller rural practices at serious risk of closure, said Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, in the Lake District.

A compensation payment for surgeries with low footfall is due to be phased out from next year, prompting an outcry that practices in rural areas will be forced to close.

The so-called Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG) is being ditched in a move that local politicians and campaigners claim is further undermining key services in rural communities.

Some practices now face a 35% cut in funding.

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Mr Farron is backing a petition on the government's website calling for added flexibility so the funding formula protects rural GP practices.

While larger practices would be better able to absorb the additional work load, smaller surgeries in rural Cumbria, Lancashire and North Yorkshire would suffer a real risk of closure, said Mr Farron.

Along with poor public transport links and difficult winter weather conditions in these rural areas, this would be devastating for people needing emergency medical care.

"In rural areas like ours the GP practice is the home for many vital health services and clinics," said Mr Farron, who is calling for changes to the policy without delay.

"In the last few years we have worked hard to make sure investment goes into these centres and together we have made a big difference.

"This shift to move healthcare into our communities has paid massive dividends and I am worried that these funding changes would put that at risk.

"I am seriously urging the government to reconsider these damaging policies and ease the pressure that vital GP surgeries are facing."

As many as 80 rural, strategically essential small GP surgeries would be rendered either unsustainable or placed in a very difficult position, Mr Farron told The Independent.

The Royal College of General Practitioners said "single-handed practices" in rural areas and cities were struggling to survive the bureaucratic demands of the modern NHS.

"The burden of regulation and inspection on what amounts to a very small business – smaller than your corner-shop – is overwhelming," said RCGP chairman Dr Clare Gerada.

A Department of Health spokesperson said NHS England was currently determining the best way to approach MPIG payments.

An NHS England spokesperson said the MPIG system was unfair and needed to be changed so money was distributed it more fairly and properly matched to patient needs.

It was not about taking more money away from GP services, said the NHS England spokesperson. Changes would be phased in over seven years to ensure stability.


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