The £250m support fund for general practice could be used to bring in retired secondary care doctors, including geriatricians, to help boost appointment numbers, NHS England has said.
The fund forms part of a package of measures aimed at improving access to GPs but practices that fail to provide an ‘appropriate’ level of face-to-face appointments will not be eligible for the cash.
Official guidance published yesterday said the extra cash could be used to pay for more sessions from existing staff or by hiring locums to help clear the backlog of appointments and meet demand for face-to-face consultations.
But GP sessional leaders said that there aren’t enough locums to fulfil demand.
The plan said the support fund could be ‘used to employ other physicians such as retired geriatricians who are unable to work as GPs because they are not permitted to join the GP Performers List’.
It added: ‘The fund could also be used for expanding extended hours capacity, including for example any contingency planning for bank holiday working. It could be used for extra administrative staff, eg at PCN, federation or practice level, where commissioners agree that is necessary and agree that the solution planned is the optimal delivery model.
NHS England also said that the money could fund ‘more sessions from existing staff, or making full use of the digital locum pool framework, reimbursable at maximum rates set out in the existing guidance’.
It added: ‘We are expecting all parts of the country to have established a digital locum bank model or equivalent by December and the Winter Access Fund can support optimal use.’
Dr Ben Molyneux, BMA sessional GPs committee chair, said: ‘The suggestion that this funding will be used to employ locum GPs to increase the number of appointments in surgeries is baffling. Has the secretary of state said where these doctors will come from?
‘It’s not as if there is a large group of locums on standby, waiting for a call from their local practice to go in and help out. Those locums who can and want to be in work are already doing so – and doing all they can to provide care to patients in services across their local area.’
He added: ‘GP locums are already working flat-out to support a failing system and while new money may help, there aren’t enough of any kind of GP to go around, so this announcement is unlikely to make a material change to many practices out of hours services or urgent treatment centres.’
Earlier this year NHS England confirmed its intention to extend the use of GP staff banks beyond the Covid pandemic – but GP leaders warned that the model ‘won’t work’ because locums ‘don’t want to be corralled’ into staff banks.
The aim of the funding is to ‘drive improved access to urgent, same-day primary care, ideally from patients’ own general practice service, by increasing capacity and GP appointment numbers achieved at practice or PCN level, or in combination’, NHS England said.
However, it also said that urgent treatment centre (UTC) capacity ‘could be expanded as an alternative to patients’ own general practice service’.
It added: ‘Systems may wish to use primary care hubs including respiratory hubs (to manage increased cases of RSV, for example), or 111 Clinical Assessment Services (CAS) capacity where general practice is unable to expand, beyond the significant further expansion of 111 already planned.
‘The CAS should continue to be able to transfer patients to their own practice as required for continuity of care.’
NHS England has invested £23m into 111 during August and September to ‘meet the increased demand in both call handling and clinical assessment services’ and a further £75m has been allocated for the second half of the year, it said.
Meanwhile, NHS England said it is ‘working with systems to strengthen their existing plans to increase numbers of GPs towards the 6,000 Government manifesto commitment’.
The ‘support’ package announced today also said that the 20% of practices with the lowest face-face appointment levels will face ‘immediate action’, while patients will rate access to their practice in real-time.