Exclusive GP practices have been hit by a 21% cut in funding for local enhanced services over the last year, as years of growth come to a dramatic halt, a Pulse investigation reveals.
NHS managers have ended funding for a wide range of clinical services, including chlamydia screening, HPV vaccination and schemes for refugees and the homeless, in a stark demonstration of how budget cuts are damaging front-line care.
Among 30 PCTs able to provide full comparative details of funding, the amount of money made available for LESs fell from an average of £2.4m in 2010/11 to £1.9m in 2011/12.
LES funding was budgeted to grow by 66% between 2007/8 and 2009/10, when it was used as a key justification by the Government for freezes to the GP contract. But NHS Employers forecast only a small increase of 3% in funding for last year, less than the rate of inflation, and a Pulse investigation found more than a fifth of trusts had placed their LES funding under review.
The latest analysis of responses under the Freedom of Information Act from 54 PCTs reveals that many are now using the LES budget as a ready source of savings.
NHS Somerset and NHS Cambridgeshire saw cuts to LES budgets of 62% and 43% respectively and NHS Hounslow dropped 17 LESs for this financial year – including stop-smoking and insulin initiation services, and vascular risk assessment – with only three being set up and five re-launched as a DES.
NHS Ealing has cut its refugee scheme and Bury has cut its older people's health screening service. Six PCTs also removed funding for chlamydia screening and four for HPV vaccination.
Dr Tim Cantor, a GP in West Malling, Kent said: ‘There are a lot of LESs that are being reconsidered and there are things being heaped on us that ought to be LESs – work being transferred from hospital to general practice, which ought really to be some sort of LES.'
Dr Paul Hobday, a GP in Maidstone, said: ‘It's fairly typical of all the things that are going on. Every communication we get at the moment is about a withdrawal of a service rather than a setting up of a service.'
Story updated 14/10/11