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Gold, incentives and meh

Government slashes investment in general practice

By Gareth Iacobucci

The Government has successfully slashed its spending in general practice following a £1.8bn overspend, according to new figures from the NHS Information centre.

Statistics show a relative freeze in investment since the Government pledged to curb spending in 2007, after it paid GPs almost 10% more than it promised under the Gross Investment Guarantee between 2003 to 2006.

The alleged overspend equated to £1.7bn in England, £41m in Wales and £68m in Northern Ireland.

As part of this, GPs in England saw a 19% rise in investment between 2003/04 and 2004/05. In contrast, last year's increase was just 1.4%.

Similarly, Wales received 21.4% increase between 2003/04 and 2004/05, compared to just 2.2% last year, while Northern Ireland saw a modest 0.4% increase last year, compared to 20% between 2003/04 and 2004/05.

The figures come as GPs were finally handed a pay uplift this year of 2.29% for 2009/10, after suffering three successive pay freezes.

In England, the total spend on GPs for 2008/09 was £7,867.2m, compared to £433.0m in Wales, and £218m in Northern Ireland.

Katharine Robbins, programme manager for primary care at the Information centre, said the figures showed that the Government had broadly achieved its aim of freezing investment, after the huge overspend reported in 2007.

‘The Gross Investment guarantee (GIG) showed big increase in investment across all parts of the UK. That sort of thing isn't going on anymore in any of these countries,' she said.

‘They exceeded the GIG by quite a large extent and it was then decided it would be best from 2006/07 onwards to freeze investment at that fairly generous level. The report shows that their intention has more or less, worked. They seem to have brought expenditure under control.'

The figures also show a slight disparity between the three nations, with investment per patient dipping by 0.9% in Northern Ireland in 2007/08, despite rising by 0.8% in England and 2.1% in Wales.

The Information Centre report attributed this to the fewer number of dispensing GPs in Northern Ireland. ‘There are very few dispensing GPs in Northern Ireland, and therefore dispending expenditure is not included to the same extent as it is for England and Wales.'

Scotland's figures were not included as part of the report, as the Scottish Government had not yet addressed inconsistencies in reporting from individual health boards.

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