Hundreds of GP surgeries have threatened to shut their doors to new patients in an escalation of a row with government that could leave people without a doctor if they move house.
A British Medical Association (BMA) survey of 1,870 GP practices in England found that more than half would consider temporarily suspending new patient registration as a form of industrial action.
The ballot of GPs was agreed at a BMA conference in May in response to what doctors say is a failure of government to offer GPs enough support in the face of rising workloads.
More than two fifths said they that would be in favour of applying for a formal and permanent list closure from NHS England. Doctors said they were considering the moves because of “unsustainable pressures” on primary care.
Richard Vautrey, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said: “The fact that even a single surgery has reached the point where it would consider a suspension of new patient registration or closing its patient list fully shows that government promises to rescue GP services have failed to materialise.
“Many GP practices are struggling to cope with the rising number of patients coming through their doors because of a lack of necessary funding and widespread staff shortages.”
About 340 million consultations are undertaken each year in England, with a 15 per cent rise in the number of appointments between 2011-2014, largely driven by an ageing population with increasingly complex care needs.
The average member of the public sees a GP six times a year; double the number of visits from a decade ago.
Research by the union in December found that a third of GP practices in England had vacancies they had been unable to fill for 12 months.
A separate survey found 84 per cent of GPs believed workload pressures were unmanageable or excessive and having a direct impact on the quality and safety of care offered to patients. Just one in ten GPs said their workload allowed for good and safe quality care.
Dr Vautrey said: “The government needs to understand that this landmark survey sounds a clear warning signal from GPs that cannot be ignored, and that the workload, recruitment and funding crisis in general practice must be addressed with far more vigour and commitment.
“Practices believe the promises in the GP Forward View, which pledged to provide more resources to frontline patient care, have failed to make an impact. The BMA is now calling on ministers to work with us to urgently address this growing crisis, which is threatening to overwhelm general practice. We cannot allow a situation where patient safety is being compromised by a lack of political action.”
The practices surveyed represent almost a quarter of the 7,613 in England.
The Department of Health said it was already offering more funding to practices. A spokeswoman said: “GPs are under more pressure than ever, so we are backing the profession with an extra £2.4 billion of funding for general practice by 2020. We speak regularly to the BMA about issues concerning general practice and would urge them to consider the detrimental impact which list closures could have on patient care.”