From funding cuts, to an aging population and the increasing demands being placed on primary care services, GP practices face ever increasing pressure.
Balancing growing patient numbers with resource constraints can prove a challenge and may lead some practices to consider restricting the growth of their patient list.
Can such a move ever be justified and what could the potential implications be?
Current regulations specify that a GP practice must provide:
- Essential services to all registered patients and temporary residents
- Primary medical services for an accident or emergency situation happening in the practice area within core working hours
- Immediate treatment when necessary of any person whose application for inclusion on the patient list has been refused but who is not yet registered with another provider
For an individual to apply to join your patient list, they must live within the practice area, or be entitled to seek acceptance as a temporary resident.
A practice with an open patient list may only refuse an application to join their list if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ for doing so.
Capping a list
Much of the discussion around refusing to register patients focuses on the definition of reasonable grounds. The rules are clear that the following would not be reasonable grounds to refuse: age; appearance; disability or medical condition; gender or gender reassignment; marriage or civil partnership; pregnancy or maternity; race; religion or belief; sexual orientation; or social class.
Examples provided which might be reasonable grounds for refusal include an applicant living in the outer boundary area, or if they have previously been removed from the list - particularly if this was because of a history of violence.
This obviously leaves some uncertainty around the reasonableness of other possible grounds, and some commentators have suggested that staffing shortages and resource constraints would be sufficient grounds to refuse all new applications. This is sometimes known as ‘open but full’ or ‘list capping’.
To informally cap a list by refusing to register new patients, your reason for doing so must be extremely serious. For example, if a practice strongly believes that registering more patients will overstretch its ability to provide the necessary services, it may be arguable that patient safety is at risk. This situation could, in theory, justify a short-term list closure but a practice would be well advised to further justify their decision with some analysis of the risk.
However, should you routinely start refusing to register new patients then you may find yourself on shaky ground. You will need to show you are actively working on a solution, such as seeking help or getting in additional resources, and doing all you can to resolve the problem.
Closing a list
If the problems you are facing are very severe and no short-term solution looks likely, then a formal closure of the list should be pursued. To do so, you would need to make an application to NHSE for their approval to close it for a period of between 3 and 12 months.
Such applications should never be entered into lightly. They require a great amount of detail to be supplied about the difficulties being experienced in delivering services, the help that NHSE may be able to give to alleviate those difficulties and also any discussions that have been had with existing patients.
The regulations do not spell out the exact grounds on which the closure of a list may be justified, but in these difficult times NHS England will likely seek to rigorously challenge your application.
A practice may potentially justify what amounts to an informal list closure without applying for a formal list closure, if the circumstances are deemed serious enough - such as putting patient safety at risk - and if the problem is perceived as short-term.
However, capping a patient list should only ever be seen as an extreme and temporary measure, as otherwise the list closure process should be followed.
If you’re at all concerned, we would generally recommend you contact your LMC in the first instance to discuss the problems you are facing and see what help and support is available to you.
For more information about practice management, or any other enquiries, please contact Nils Christiansen on 01483 511555 or email firstname.lastname@example.org