CHANGES to the way GPs are funded could threaten the future of at least 98 practices, including some that provide vital services to thousands of rural patients in the North-East and North Yorkshire, GP leaders have warned.

Last year the Government decided to begin phasing out the minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) from April 2014.

MPIG provides an important financial lifeline to many smaller GP practices by guaranteeing a minimum level of funding that is not dependent on the number of patients a GP practice has on its practice list.

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The change has caused alarm in North Yorkshire, where doctors and local politicians joined forces to campaign against the move.

Now NHS England has identified 98 GP practices across the country that will lose substantial levels of funding that could place their long term survival in question. In addition to the 98, there are a significant number of other practices that will be severely affected.

The British Medical Association is urging the Government to take action to ensure that practices are not forced to close. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “The government has seriously misjudged the potential impact of its funding changes, especially on rural GP services.

"It is likely that a few hundred practices will lose noticeable levels of funding, with 98 practices identified by NHS England as being at serious risk from severe cuts in their financial support that could threaten their ability to remain open.

“These GPs provide vital services to patients in areas where accessing healthcare is already not easy because of the large distances patients have to travel to get to their local NHS services.

"If these practices were to close it could leave large geographical areas without a nearby GP practice."

Dr Julian Fester, who runs a practice with one other GP at Egton, near Whitby, said: "Every day at my small practice I see vulnerable patients reliant on the care we provide, but now I’m facing the stark reality that funding changes could threaten the service we offer and lead to poorer access for local patients.

“For my practice, we’ll lose £50,000 a year in funding over the next seven years, which could have a huge impact on our ability to provide services such as minor surgery, minor injury care or home visits and could result in higher referral rates to hospitals."