The £150m fund NHS England will inject to keep GP services running throughout the Covid vaccination campaign is the sum of additional pandemic funding for practices ‘until March’, NHS England has clarified.
Last week, Pulse reported that NHS England expects GP practices to ‘remain open and accessible to all patients’ while vaccinating the population against Covid, and that it would distribute £150m to CCGs to facilitate this.
Announcing the funding this week, an NHS England letter outlined how the fund will be distributed as well as a number of conditions placed on receiving it.
The letter said: ‘The £150m fund represents the total available additional Covid funding for general practice until March 2021, except for arrangements for potential Covid vaccine delivery which would be in addition.’
The letter said said the fund will be ‘immediately allocated through ICS to CCGs’ for ‘the purpose of supporting the expanding general practice capacity up until the end of March 2021’.
Although commissioners control the fund, the letter added that CCGs ‘should not introduce overly burdensome administrative processes for PCNs and practices to secure support’.
The letter also outlined how the money should be used – with money held back if criteria are not met.
Conditions attached to the funding include practices returning activity to ‘at least prior levels’ and making ‘significant progress on learning disability health checks’.
The letter said: ‘Where an individual practice is not yet accurately recording activity that is broadly back at its own pre-Covid levels, it is expected to do so as part of accessing the fund.’
It added that the funding is expected to support seven ‘priority goals’:
- Increasing GP numbers and capacity;
- Supporting the establishment of the ‘simple Covid oximetry@home model’, with further guidance to follow;
- Taking ‘first steps’ in identifying and supporting patients with long Covid;
- Supporting clinically extremely vulnerable patients and maintaining the shielding list;
- Making ‘inroads’ into the backlog of appointments, including for chronic disease management and routine vaccinations and immunisations;
- Making ‘significant progress’ on learning disability health checks, with an expectation that all CCGs will ‘without exception’ reach the target of 67% by March 2021, and taking action to improve ethnicity data recording in GP records;
- ‘Potentially’ offering backfill for staff absences where this is agreed by the CCG, required to meet demand and the individual is not able to work remotely.
It said: ‘ICSs and CCGs will be expected to achieve these goals, and confirm they have spent the money fully within general practice.
‘The funding is non-recurrent and should not be used to fund commitments running beyond this financial year.’
ICSs and CCGs are ‘encouraged’ to put the fund towards the creation of additional salaried GP roles that are ‘attractive to practices and locums alike’, the letter added.
It said: ‘The fund could also be used for the employment of staff returning to help with Covid, or to increase the time commitment of existing salaried staff.
‘And in line with commitments already made in the GP contract, support will be available to establish flexible pools of employed GPs (including returners) and other staff to deploy across local communities.’
Each STP or ICS will also have access to an additional fund of up to £120,000 to support the recruitment and deployment of GPs, the letter said.
The announcement was pre-empted by an open letter from primary care minister Jo Churchill thanking GPs for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic last week.