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Revealed: Only 5% of flagship scheme to upgrade GP surgeries spent on premises

The Government’s promise of a major upgrade to GP surgeries to enable them to expand and help ease the pressure on hospitals has not materialised, a Pulse investigation reveals.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt promised a ‘visible improvement in primary care facilities’, but new figures show only 5% of the £1bn fund has been spent by NHS England on improving GP premises, two years after it was first announced.

Figures obtained by Pulse under the Freedom of Information Act show £48m of the ‘Estates and Technology Transformation Fund’ has been spent on premises so far, while £201m has been quietly siphoned off to support other projects, such as seven-day GP access and putting pharmacists in GP practices.

Chancellor George Osborne announced a £1bn ‘primary care infrastructure fund’ would come from fines levied on misbehaving banks in 2014, saying it would lead to a ‘transformation’ of the health service and NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens saying ‘shovel ready’ premises projects would be prioritised.

Around 40% of practices that have applied for funding have been approved, but many were given much less funding than requested and others have been sent back to the drawing board to make their projects deliver the same outcomes for less money.

March ettf funding breakdown

What has the funding from the £1bn premises fund been spent on?

This is despite four in 10 GPs saying their premises are not adequate for patient care and one in 10 surgeries saying they have hazards that could affect the health of patients and staff.

The NHS’s own plan for its future relies on GP practices expanding, but practices are currently struggling to keep pace with rocketing patient numbers.

A BMA spokesperson for GP premises Dr Peter Holden said the fund has proved to be a ‘trick’: ‘They announce the money, and set an impossibly short application deadline so they don’t end up spending it because practices didn’t meet the deadline.’

Dr Holden should know – his practice applied to the fund. ‘We wanted to add consulting space. We’re hot-desking as it is – I had to go home at lunchtime today to do paperwork because my room is needed by someone else. So we applied a few months ago, and got nothing.’

Dr Robert Koefman, a GP in Bracknell, says that his bid has been kicked into the long grass despite housing developments projected to add 6,500 patients to his 10,500 list in the next five years. He says: ‘We have had no help. We have to hope other practices don’t get funding – because we don’t have the land, which with all this development costs £1m per acre. We’ve looked at funding the work ourselves, but we’re talking about £4.5m and we’re within 10 years of retirement. NHS England even acknowledges it will be a problem, but they won’t help.’

Kathryn Hulme, practice manager of Mayfield Surgery, Stoke-on-Trent, says the practice is considering self-funding after its bid was rejected last year. She said: ‘We have 11,800 patients with seven clinical rooms and 14 clinicians. Our bid has not been deferred, just not agreed as it did not fit NHSE criteria.’

NHS England said that by March, it will have spent £120m of the fund, but it was unable to say how much of this was on premises and technology, and how much had been siphoned off into other projects.

The NHS England spokesperson added: 'Given it's taxpayers money being invested, we make no apologies for ensuring that every scheme is well designed and properly vetted before cash is released. We are fully on track to invest an extra £2.4 billion in GP services, which as well as modern surgeries will mean extra doctors, practice nurses, clinical pharmacists and mental health staff across England.' 

Full details: Estates and Technology Transformation Fund (ETTF)

Number of applications: 4,059

Number of completed projects: 560

Number of ongoing projects: 316

Number of projects approved but subject to due diligence: 861

Amount spent on premises as of January 2017: £48m

Amount spent on IT infrastructure as of January 2017: Unknown

Amount siphoned off to other projects: £201m (see chart for breakdown)

Readers' comments (6)

  • TBH if we we're paid enough to start with we would do it oursleves - but we have to put with non-commercial reimbursement (whilst some have commercial rents and leases imposed)

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  • I applied to NHSEngland and was told they did not fund outside lighting, replacement doors or improved safety features. When challenged, they summed up their position by saying they did not fund improvements to premises. I pointed out the Premises Directions directly refer to the Premises Improvement grant. no answer.

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  • Azeem Majeed

    One problem that we have experienced in my practice is that we share our health centre with staff from a local NHS Trust, which has a conflict of interest. The NHS Trust is also the landlord and has shown great reluctance in giving us any additional space, even though our list size is increasing and we are getting more involved in undergraduate training and postgraduate training.

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  • It has been like any other of the promises made and broken. When this funding was announced a year before that CCG had promised our surgery funding for improvement. We were told to reapply when this funding was offered. We were made to go back to 'drawing board' and redo our plans which meant surgery had to spend thousands on planning and architect fees. Our plans had been agreed in principal and we were falsely reassured. We obliged only to be told later that our plans were not in keeping with NHS England's latest vision. Plans (same as previously agreed) were outrightly diapproved. We were told to either submit combined plans with a neighbnouring surgery to come up with something extravagant like building for a health centre or just 'Forget it'.
    In times of austerity and doing simple mathematics spending milions on a imaginary project just didn't seem real. It just felt like we were taken for a little 'ride' and told either this way or highway.
    We had to chose the highway this time.
    Another political farce to look good on public front but meaningless and wasted exercise for surgeries.

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  • Our accountant and solicitor both have posh offices like Harley st.
    They charge £250 per hour and are less qualified and trained than us.
    We have to blame our CCG leads for not chasing this money. Lansley said they were to manage to provide local services. They failed

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  • Anonymous Locum GP

    don't worry - i'm sure promise of 5YF and 5000 'new' GPs will be kept.

    tbh more worried re: IR35 rule changes

    am hopeful of changes in NI - the sooner they show exit is possible the better.

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