Cuts in health funding that could see scores of GP surgeries close across England must be reversed, says leading rural campaigner ACRE.
ACRE (Action with Communities in Rural England) says the changes to the Minimum Practice Income Guarantee (MPIG) will hit the most vulnerable rural residents.
The charity – 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.
Head of Rural Insight Nick Chase said: “The loss of any surgery in an isolated rural area will cause hardship to elderly and vulnerable residents.
“Rural communities are home to 25% of all older people and with the percentage of over-85s set to double in the next 20 years, provision of local healthcare for our ageing population is crucial.
“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 Council).
Mr Chase added: “ACRE 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, calls for a fair deal for rural communities.