NHS England has deferred the incentive scheme target for GP networks to offer patients appointments within two weeks, in a bid to relieve practice workload over the winter.
Health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey’s new plan for patient access last week set out a range of measures to improve access to GP practices, including two-week GP appointment targets and the new publication of practice-level appointment data.
But an NHS England letter to all GP practices and PCNs yesterday said it had ‘taken action to boost capacity ahead of winter’ to ‘support the NHS during this period of sustained and significant pressure’,
Setting out a series of measures to support GPs over the winter, NHS England said it would retire or defer until next year four investment and impact fund (IIF) indicators worth £37m and allocate this funding to PCNs via a monthly payment.
One of the indicators to be deferred until 2023/24 measures the ‘percentage of patients whose time from booking to appointment was two weeks or less’.
The indicator had come into force on 1 April this year and it remains unclear when in 2023/24 it will restart.
NHS England has also asked integrated care boards (ICBs) to identify where to allocate potential additional winter support funding to GP practices and PCNs in their area.
With regards to the health secretary’s access plan, the BMA has stressed that none of the measures are ‘underpinned by any contractual agreements’.
However, it warned of the damage the ‘divisive’ announcement could do to GPs’ relationship with their patients, saying that practices have been ‘set up to fail’.
Dr Coffey has indicated that the only repercussion for practices that do not meet the expectations would be the potential of patients switching GP.
The health secretary also came under criticism by GPs after appearing on BBC radio claiming GP numbers have been ‘stable’ since the last general election – the same period during which official data shows FTE numbers have plummeted.
Note: Headline was changed at 10.51 on 28 September to reflect the fact that the target is being deferred, while payments are still going ahead.