ACROSS Britain, it’s getting harder than ever to book a GP appointment. As more people live longer, demand for trips to the doctor is growing, while a national shortage of doctors continues.

The rise in demand has seen local practices around the country struggling to cope and many are being forced to close as more doctors quit, unable to deal with the pressure.

An analysis by the Nuffield Trust for the BBC found numbers of GPs per 100,000 people in the UK has fallen from nearly 65 in 2014 to 60 last year, the first sustained fall of this kind since the late 1960s.

The data showed that the North-East came second in the amount of GPs per 100,000 people at 61.7, behind the South-West with 68.8.

Nuffield Trust director of strategy Helen Buckingham said the analysis found 3,400 fewer GPs were working in the NHS than would be expected if numbers had kept up with population growth.

Changes to the way practices are funded nationally, with cash being withdrawn from rural practices to support busier urban centres, has sounded the death knell for many surgeries, including some here in Tynedale.

In 2015, the sudden closure of a doctors’ surgery covering rural North Tyne and Redesdale rocked the community, and the 800 patients who used the service.

The Harbottle practice ran satellite surgeries at Otterburn, serving people from Otterburn, Byrness, Rochester and Elsdon as well as numerous small settlements in the Upper Rede Valley.

Today, the patients’ nearest GP is at Bellingham after it closed the twice-a-week branch surgery at Otterburn Memorial Hall in 2016. This meant an influx of around 300 new patients began visiting the Bellingham surgery.

The White Medical Group, which has practices in Wylam and Ponteland, closed its Stamfordham surgery in March last year, and relocated its services to Ponteland Primary Care Centre.

As well as financial pressures due to changes in the funding received by the NHS, the practice cited staffing issues, leaving difficulties in recruiting more GPs to take the practice forward.

And mystery still surrounds the future of the Wylam Riversdale Surgery on Woodcroft Road, after a consultation was launched last year with patients on proposals to close the surgery.

As a result of the closures, demand is increasing in the surgeries still open. GPs are seeing far more patients than they consider to be safe, with some openly making mistakes, according to new research.

A study, carried out by Pulse magazine, analysed GPs workload and found that overtired doctors were sometimes seeing twice as many patients as they should.

The Pulse poll of 1,681 GPs for BBC’s Panorama found that they are working an average 11-hour day, including eight hours of clinical care and three hours of admin.

On average, each GP dealt with 41 patients per day, despite saying 30 was a safe number.

One in 10 dealt with 60 or more patients – double the safe limit.

Dr Nikita Kanani, NHS England’s national medical director for primary care, offered assurances that measures were in place to solve the problem.

She said: “We already know that general practice is under pressure which is why investment in local doctors and community services is increasing by £4.5bn, helping fund an army of 20,000 more staff to support GP practices as part of the NHS Long Term Plan.”