GP recruitment funds in danger
By Helen Crump
Millions of pounds supposedly ring-fenced to help recruit GPs to under-doctored areas is in danger of being siphoned off to clear NHS deficits.
The £13 million primary care development fund was set up by the Department of Health last year as a replacement for the golden-hello scheme. It was meant to enable strategic health authorities to tailor GP recruitment initiatives to local needs.
But several authorities have failed to spend last year's money and at least one, Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire, has already said it will use its share to plug local deficits.
A letter from Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA chief executive Trevor Jones to PCTs stated its £800,000 allocation for 2005/6 and 2006/7 would be swallowed up.
Mr Jones admitted the move would hit primary care, but said 'the community cannot go on living beyond its means'.
Steve Mercer, chief executive of Avon LMC, said the move was 'outrageous'.
He said: 'There is no funding anywhere that is sacrosanct and protected. Any funding may be raided.'
LMCs in other areas said they had heard nothing about how their authority planned to use last year's cash, or a similar allocation expected this year.
Dr Nigel Watson of Wessex LMCs said he was in contact with two other health authorities, Dorset and Somerset and Hampshire and Isle of Wight, about the fund.
He said: 'Our concern is they will try to use it to offset their deficit, despite the fact that when allocated, the reason it was for was explicit.'
Dr Rob Barnett, secretary of Liverpool LMC, said he had heard nothing from Cheshire and Merseyside SHA about its plans.
Birmingham and the Black Country SHA has revealed plans to use the money for the flexible careers scheme.
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC workforce negotiator, said diverting the money to cover deficits could put an end to devolved funding schemes.
He said: 'If SHAs and PCTs are not prepared to use the money as it is meant, it calls into question the whole future of funds like this.'
Avon, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire SHA said it believed the short-term effect on services would not be as damaging as the long-term effect of continuing deficits.
Health authorities in Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester have drawn up plans to use the money for recruitment.