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Fifth of GPs considered applying for £50m extended hours fund

Almost a fifth of GPs in England may have applied to the Government’s general practice ‘Challenge Fund’ designed to extend access, a BMA survey has found.

The survey of 420 GPs run from 4-24 February showed that 3% had already applied and a further 16% were considering applying for a slice of the £50m fund announced by prime minister David Cameron last October, aimed at increasing evening and weekend access to GP services as well as access to other ‘innovative’ services like email or Skype consultations.

NHS England, which was collecting applications until 14 February, have said interest levels were ‘excellent’ but have not revealed the number of applications.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the appetite for extra funding came as no surprise in light of the current funding squeeze in general practice – with many practices hoping to use it to employ more GPs and practice staff rather than just extending opening hours.

He said: ‘I’m not surprised by that finding and it is in line with what we had been hearing from GPs directly. There is so little funding available for practices at the moment that some have seen this as an opportunity to secure new and additional funding to enable them to invest in developing services. This is in line with what we called for in our “Developing General Practice” document last year.

‘Many of the Challenge Fund bids we’ve heard about are not primarily focused on extended hours but on having resources to employ more GPs and staff to give them extra capacity to focus on the needs of vulnerable and complex patients. Practices are aware it is simply not possible to stretch an already over stretched service more thinly as the risk is that the current service will break as a result.’

Earlier this month Pulse was able to reveal the first details of some of the bids for funding, including National Association of Primary Care (NAPC) president Dr James Kingsland’s plan to roll out ‘never-full’ practices across England. NHS England is expected to announce which bids were successful before the end of the month.