GPs and patients fighting NHS funding cuts that have placed 22 East End surgeries at risk of closure today took their campaign to Downing Street.
A petition with more than 21,000 signatures was being submitted at 1.30pm by Labour MPs Rushanara Ali and Jim Fitzpatrick as they appealed for a reprieve for the health centres in Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Newham.
They are among 98 across the country losing vast sums of protected income under a change to the funding rules. The Jubilee Street Practice, which has 11,000 patients in Stepney, would lose almost £220,000 a year over the next seven years and has warned NHS England that it will have to close next April.
Dr Naomi Beer, of Jubilee Street Practice, said: “We’ve already taken pay cuts to try to keep going, but we can’t absorb such a huge loss.
“It breaks my heart to think that our patients, some of them amongst the poorest in the country, are at very real risk of losing their GP practice. We are asking the Government to take action to ensure all practices receive a fair allocation of funds.”
A High Court challenge to the “unlawful” change in funding has been launched by a Jubilee Street patient, Danny Currie. The 35-year-old has complex medical needs and has relied on the surgery for 30 years.
Richard Stein, from the human rights team at Leigh Day solicitors, claimed NHS England breached the National Health Service Act 2006 by failing to consult prior to changing the funding formula.
Lawyers believe the removal of the MPIG [minimum price income guarantee] safety net are flawed as they take no account of the level of deprivation, ethnicity and general health status of patients in the East End. Parts of Tower Hamlets have a life expectancy of 54 compared to 72 in Richmond.
Mr Stein said: “This is clearly an attack on inner city health provision and we agree with NHS England that the potential closure of this practice could be the first of many more.
“The Government must do more to address the consequences of its decisions and funds need to be spent to reduce not increase the disparity in the services provided.”
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “The BMA has been warning the government for well over a year that its decision to phase out MPIG would leave a number of practices in challenging circumstances at risk from closure.
“All GP practices are under real, sustained pressure from a combination of rising patient demand, declining funding and the government’s desire to move more care into the community. Given this climate, many of the practices that are funded by MPIG can ill-afford to lose this vital funding stream.
“The Tower Hamlets practices have to provide care to some of the most deprived areas in London where the population has significant health needs. This situation is completely unacceptable. The government must act before patient care is damaged.”
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The system needs to be fair so GP practices are paid fairly according to the number of patients and the services they deliver.
“The MPIG was introduced in 2004 to support practices moving to a new GP contract. NHS England will be supporting the most affected practices to adjust as these payments are gradually phased out over seven years, and the money will be reinvested in general practice.”