The number of communities which are more than three miles away from the nearest GP practice has increased to 1,946. This is 162 more than just two years ago, the Daily Telegraph has reported.
Its analysis of NHS data for England has identified 206 areas where patients have to travel five or more miles, a 12 per cent increase on 2017. Patients in some parts of the countryside are having to travel 14 miles to their nearest surgery, it notes.
The data identified 256 villages and small towns where the nearest GP practice is a mile further away than was the case in 2017. Particularly affected have been the Cotswolds, with 20 communities in this category, and the areas of West and East Lindsey in Lincolnshire, where the combined figure is 25.
The article also refers to Department of Transport statistics which indicated that the number of households living more than an hour by public transport from a family doctor increased 40 per cent in two years, from 99,516 in 2014 to 137,597 households in 2016.
The figures were in the front-page lead story on June 26th, headlined: “Hundreds of villages lose local GP surgery.” A further feature inside the newspaper looked at the impact of practices compelled to consolidate resources and the problems of recruiting GPs, making practices increasingly unviable.
The Dispensing Doctors’ Association was not approached by the Daily Telegraph for comment but has alerted the newspaper to the meetings it has had with the previous and current Health Secretaries.
For over seven years the DDA has been warning of the dangers facing rural general practice. Both Jeremy Hunt, with three dispensing practices in his constituency, and Matt Hancock, with 10, have “offered warm words, but have delivered nothing.”
The DDA has suggested that the Daily Telegraph could help by eliciting pledges from Boris Johnson’s and Jeremy Hunt’s campaigns for specific support from rural dispensing practices.
“Given that the Conservative Party is the party of rural England, this ought not to be too much trouble. DDA has contacted senior Conservative MPs to raise the importance of dispensing to the stability of rural practice,” said Matthew Isom, DDA chief executive.
In a separate letter to the editor, DDA chairman Dr Richard West wrote: “Were it not for dispensing, your investigation would have shown that many more rural/coastal surgeries have closed.
“Current government policy for general practice is largely urban centric and NHS England’s plans have nothing specific for rural communities. This must change and now is the best time to achieve that.”