MORE than 200 GP practices closed down or merged last year, NHS data reveals.
It shows that while just eight practices opened, 202 shut or joined a partnership.
GP leaders say it is the second highest number in the past decade – and up a quarter since last year when 147 surgeries were affected.
They warn many medics are at “breaking point”, with a critical shortages making it harder than ever for sick Brits to see a GP.
Officials said it is unclear how many patients lost out as a result of the widespread closures and mergers.
But a Pulse magazine investigation earlier this year found 265,000 Brits were forced to sign up to a new GP or travel to a different practice in 2016.
Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, warned OAPs will be particularly badly hit.
She said: “This is terrible news for older patients. Merging practices and closing down local GPs may seem like a good idea to NHS bosses, but it is not in the best interest of elderly people.
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“There are just too many patients and not enough doctors sadly.”
The new figures from NHS Digital show surgeries closed in all regions.
But the North of England had more than 60 close or merge – while more than 50 closed or merged in the South East.
Those that opened were mainly in the Midlands and the East of England.
This is the second highest figure in recent history after 2012 when 228 were affected.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, head of the Royal College of GPs, said: “When practices are being forced to close because GPs and their teams can no longer cope with ever-growing patient demand without the necessary funding and resources, it’s a huge problem.
“And when practices are being forced to lock up and hand back the keys to their surgery because they can’t recruit enough GPs or practice staff, it will have severe consequences for our patients and the wider NHS.”
She called on ministers to hire thousands more family medics to tackle the crisis, and Dr Richard Vautrey, acting chairman of the British Medical Association’s GPs committee, said: “The Government has long ignored GPs’ warnings that general practice is struggling to cope, but this is further evidence that the service is at breaking point.
“It is time for Government and NHS England to step up their efforts to resolve this crisis before even more patients lose their much loved local GP service.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “All NHS patients wanting to register with a GP practice are guaranteed to be able to do so and we have increased investment in general practice by £1billion in two years in order to improve services and boost GP numbers.
“These figures don’t separate merged practices from closed practices.
“As part of our plans to improve general practice services and boost the workforce, many practices are choosing to merge in order to offer patients a much greater range of services.”
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