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Flagship £50m extended hours scheme receives 250 bids

Exclusive NHS England has been inundated with around 250 bids for the £50m fund to help pilot extended hours schemes, leading to the prospect that strong contenders will miss out on funding, Pulse has learnt.

Dr David Geddes, NHS England’s head of primary care commissioning told Pulse that around 250 bids for funding have been received, and area teams are looking for alternative ways to support bids which are not selected for funding.

The scheme was set up by Prime Minister David Cameron as a means to support practices opening from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, by setting up a series of pilots through a funding pot worth £50m.

Pulse has also learnt that the original bidding process had required applicants to begin their new schemes by 1 April, and justify any reasons they were unable to do so, but are now being kept ‘waiting on the starting line’ by NHS England  – who were supposed to announce successful bids last month.

Dr Geddes explained that area teams were ‘impressed’ by the bids, and were seeking ways to develop ideas that weren’t going to receive challenge funding.

Answering a question from Pulse after a Westminster Forum event the future of primary care on Thursday about how many bids had been received for challenge funds, Dr Geddes said: ‘250 odd […] I think actually that’s going to be more than we can accommodate within the scope of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund.’

‘But many area teams are saying that they’re really impressed by many of these bids. So even if they don’t get sponsored through the fund, many of the area teams are thinking how can we look towards developing and supporting – if not the bid in its entirety – at least elements of it.’

The issue of how successful bids will be funded has yet to be fully resolved, Dr Geddes told Pulse: ‘The idea when we were looking at the bids was actually to identify… how they would become a sustainable ongoing concern.’

Dr James Kingsland, a former Department of Health adviser and president of the National Association of Primary Care, is submitting a bid alongside two other CCGs. He told Pulse that practices were keen to begin pilots but were being held up by NHS England.

He said: ‘There’s a lot of unrest out there, whilst the bidders – to my understanding – are all ready to go if they are successful. They’ve lined up people, they’ve lined up things to do, they’ve lined up the organisational structure that’s needed. And they’re all waiting on the starting line for the people who’ve said “you’ve got to be ready on 1 April” not being ready themselves.’

Dr Sam Everington, chair of Tower Hamlets CCG said that having the PM back investment in primary care sent a strong message, and that funding GP innovation was ‘a vote of confidence  in – what has always been – the vanguard of technology in the NHS.’

He said: ‘It’s very clear to me that it’s going to be across the country, it’s a raft of different ideas, and there’s going to be an evaluation which will look at what works – and if it works what sort of investment is needed to mainstream it.’

NHS England said: ‘The pilots will be independently evaluated during 2014/15 and lessons shared more widely which will include looking at sustainability and value for money.’