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Almost 2,000 vulnerable practices to ‘benefit from funding by end of March’

NHS England is planning for a further 1,000 GP practices to benefit from its funding to support vulnerable practices by the end of March, in addition to 900 practices that have already been given help, its GP lead revealed today.

Its director of primary care, Dr Arvind Madan, said that 1,000 practices will benefit from the £16m committed by NHS England this year from its £40m ‘Practice Resilience Programme’ announced in the GP Forward View in April.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum conference on the future of general practice in London today, he added that some 900 practices will have been helped by last year’s similar scheme, the £10m Vulnerable Practices Fund, by the end of this month.

Dr Madan said it was a ‘tragedy when a GP practice fails, and reiterated his acknowledgement that NHS England did not get the Vulnerable Practices Fund ‘out the door quick enough’, but said he thinks ‘that is starting to change’.

Pulse revealed two weeks ago that the Vulnerable Practices Fund was underspent by more than half, with just £4m spent.

But today, Dr Madan said that had risen to about £4.8m, and NHS England is still hoping to have spent it all by the New Year.

He said: ‘I think it is something like £4.8m is now spent, with the ambition that the rest of the £10m in the Vulnerable Practices scheme being spent by the end of this calendar year.

‘And the first £16m of the £40m Practice Resilience Programme, with similar criteria, starting to affect over 1,000 other practices by the end of this financial year, with further waves of funding to support that in the next three years.’

At the same conference, Dr Madan attempted to reassure GP leaders who voiced concern that any ‘transformation’ funding from the centre would not reach GP practices.

According to Dr Madan, NHS England will not approve ‘sustainability and transformation plans’ – the local blueprints for the future of the NHS – to be taken forward unless they pledge ’15-20%’ of funding towards general practice.

He said: ‘What we have tried to do in the primary care team is to create some clarity around the financial expectations pointed at primary care in order to deliver the GP Forward View, from anything that might be a locally funded strand of the opportunity. 

‘And what we are saying is 15-20% of the STP fund we are expecting to see pointed to primary care, and that will be one of our assessments of whether we think it passes must.’

This was the strongest assertion yet that NHS England will force STP leaders to make general practice financially sustainable, and comes after two councils this week blocked their STP proposals because not enough was committed towards primary care.

Previously, NHS England had said it would not ‘agree’ to any plan ‘unless it explicitly demonstrates how local GPs will be supported, and how the GP Forward View will be implemented in their area’.

But the commitments come as Pulse revealed this week that at least 16,000 patients will be losing their GP practice over the holiday period, and that six in ten GPs say morale has deteriorated since the publication of the GP Forward View.

What is the Practice Resilience Programme?

NHS England is putting £40m into the GP resilience programme over the next four years. In 2016/17 there is £16m available, with £8m in the years afterwards.

Different regions will get different levels of funding, with Yorkshire and the Humber receiving the most money (£1,593,913 in 2016/17) and North West London the least (£626,000 in 2016/17).

Practices will need to show ‘matched commitment’ to the programme, by having an agreed action plan containing ‘clear milestones for exiting support’. Practices will not need to match funding although they ‘will be expected to enter into a non-legally binding Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NHS England’.

NHS England has identified a ‘menu of support’ for practices which will be tailored to the needs of practices in local areas. However, the support is locally determined so it is up to the local team what support they offer.

Items on the ‘menu’ that could be offered include support with workforce issues, management advice, coaching and mentoring as well as cover for staff on leave.

For more advice on how to access the programme, read Pulse’s full guide