Hundreds of thousands of patients are losing their local GP surgery due to the highest number of closures ever last year.
Health leaders have warned the bond between family doctors and their communities is breaking down as new figures reveal 138 practices closed across the UK in 2018.
Eighty-six per cent of these were smaller local surgeries.
It comes as NHS data shows there were 494 fewer fully qualified GPs in England in March compared to the same time last year, a decrease of 1.3 per cent.
This is despite a 2016 government pledge to increase the number of primary care doctors by 5,000 by September next year.
Analysis of replies to Freedom of Information requests submitted to all local NHS areas in the UK by Pulse magazine indicates 367,937 patients were displaced from their current surgery last year, forcing many to make longer journeys to see a doctor.
Meanwhile 31 of the 138 surgery closures happened as a result of mergers, affecting an estimated 161,126 patients.
The campaign group GP Survival last night said mergers often amounted to “cover” for closures.
Dr Richard Vautrey, who chairs the British Medical Association’s GP Committee, said: “The impact on patients is obviously a big concern as they are forced to move to a new practice, but no GP would take the decision to close lightly.
“After all, for many of these GPs, they will have been in charge of their practice for a number of years and will have formed strong bonds with their patients and the wider community – which is the reason many doctors choose general practice as a career in the first place.”
An expanding patient population, driven by increasing numbers of elderly people with multiple conditions, has hugely increased the workload on GPs in recent years, in turn making the sector less attractive to potential recruits.