Cuts in health funding that could see scores of GP surgeries close across England must be reversed, says Cheshire Community Action.
The charity is backing a call by its national body ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England), which says the changes to the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG) will hit the most vulnerable rural residents.
ACRE – the national voice for England’s network of rural community councils – is calling on the next Government to reinstate the funding in its 2015 election manifesto.
The manifesto is based on the rural intelligence ACRE collects from its 38 members, including Cheshire Community Action who reach 52,000 grassroots organisations nationwide.
Cheshire Community Actions Chief Operating Officer Mark Reading said: “The loss of any surgery in an isolated rural area will cause hardship to elderly and vulnerable residents.
“The closure of surgeries will pose problems for older people who may face difficulties in getting to appointments further afield. In rural areas, 35% of pensioner households have no access to a car. With cuts in public transport, they are often forced to rely on friends, family and overstretched volunteers.”
MPIG is a top-up payment given to some general practices since 2004. In 2014/15, NHS England began a seven-year plan to phase out the payment in a review of how GP surgeries are paid for their services. The move led to widespread objections from GPs and the BMA (British Medical Association).
ACRE’s Head of Rural Insight Nick Chase said: “The ACRE Network is calling on the next Government to reinstate MPIG for rural surgeries.
“A survey of our Network in 2014 showed that the withdrawal of MPIG would hit rural GPs hard. For instance, our ACRE Network member in Devon reported that at least 10% of rural surgeries faced closure and in Cornwall, 20% would lose significant income if these changes went ahead.
“Whilst there are those who say that the MPIG is inequitable and requires a rethink, the entire withdrawal of the funding is not the way forward.
“The number of GP surgeries closing has increased significantly over the past 12 months. NHS England is aware of 98 surgeries that could face closure as a direct result of withdrawal of MPIG.”
The ACRE manifesto, which sets out 12 key rural challenges to the next Government, is available at www.acre.org.uk.