A significant percentage of the family doctors in Brighton and Hove are expected to retire in the next five to ten years, health chiefs were warned.
The forecast comes after the number of doctors’ surgeries in Brighton and Hove dropped from 45 to 35 over the past five years. Some of the closures were due to retirement.
The changes have already left more patients to each GP (general practitioner) than almost anywhere else in the country, according to campaigners.
Sussex Defend the NHS said that there was one GP for about 2,500 patients on average across Brighton and Hove compared with the national average of about 1,780.
A report to local health chiefs warned about “increasing numbers retiring within the next five to ten years”, adding: “Currently, 18 per cent of local practice GP partners, 9 per cent of salaried GPs, 14 per cent of locums and 26 per cent of practice nurses are aged 55 years and older.”
An official from the Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Hugo Luck, said: “Our ratio of GPs to patients is not where we’d like it to be.
“To make it a more attractive environment and role for our current and future GPs, we can reduce that pressure by the provision of new facilities.”
Mr Luck, the CCG’s deputy director of primary and community care, said that health chiefs recognised there was a problem but that it was not confined to Brighton and Hove.
He said that other staff were being trained to do more – not to replace GPs but to work within surgeries to support them.
He spoke at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Health and Wellbeing Board at Hove Town Hall yesterday (Tuesday 28 January).
He said that examples included employing first responders, paramedics and specialist nurses such as those dealing with diabetes. They could be more appropriate for some patients and could provide more specific support.
Councillors quizzed Mr Luck about what happened when GP surgeries close.
He told them that mostly the decision to close a practice would be made by the doctors running it because GP surgeries were independent businesses.
Mergers of smaller surgeries with larger ones were often welcomed, he said, as a way of reducing the pressure on individual doctors. And it could give them the chance to learn new skills in bigger and better facilities.
After a series of closures over five years, the pace had slowed down, he said, and at the moment various practices across Brighton and Hove were collaborating in “primary care networks”.
Green councillor Sarah Nield, who campaigned with residents to try to keep the Matlock Road surgery open in Brighton, asked about the consultation process.
Patients thought that they were being consulted about the closure, she told the board, but they were really being asked about the effects of the changes.
She said: “The consultation is not what patients think it is. They’re not being consulted on whether the merger should happen but on the problems that might throw up.
“It would be good to be clear on that, as when residents are asked for their views and then they feel they’re ignored, they feel powerless.”
Mr Luck said that with Matlock Road it was made clear that the decision had been made.
Some patients welcomed the move to the Beaconsfield Surgery, in Preston Road, he said, because having a GP based there meant that they had access to more services.
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