The GPC has complained to NHS England amid data suggesting a significant chunk of its £16m GP Resilience Programme to support struggling practices would not reach practices by the end-of-March deadline.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has asked NHS England to set out how much of the fund has been released to practices an to guarantee it will not be clawed back from CCGs who do not spend it this financial year.
But NHS England responded that the full amount has been ‘committed’ for spending.
The fund was one of the key measures in the GP Forward View committed to helping practices who had been identified as being at risk of closing because of destabilising pressures, like long-term vacancies.
A BMA survey of LMCs found that, as of February 2017, 38% of regions reported their practices had not received any funding or support through the scheme with the March deadline looming.
A further 20% of LMCs said practices had only received some of the funding which had been earmarked for their region.
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said it was ‘scandalous’ that practices who are under the most pressure are being subjected to a postcode lottery on funding to protect patient services and keep the doors open.
But this does come as some local GP leaders complained NHS England was also ‘rushing out’ funding ahead of the deadline with some practices receiving £10,000 lump sums rather than targeted packages of support.
At the time, NHS England said it was ‘pretty perverse to be accused of allocating this money both too slowly and too quickly’.
Dr Nagpaul’s letter to NHS England director of commissioning Ros Roughton says NHS England’s own figures show £11m in funding was still with CCGs in February – although the GPC believes ‘this may be an underestimate’.
It continues: ‘[The] money should have been allocated to identified practices by now, in order for it to be spent by end March 2017.
‘Forty LMCs responded to us (out of 71) and over half reported that practices had not or only partly received this funding.’
‘It is vital that this essential resource to support practices under the greatest of pressures is not lost to general practice due to the problems in local deployment of this funding.’
Commenting on the letter, Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The BMA has written to NHS England asking them to urgently address this serious operational failure. This funding must be retained and ring-fenced for its intended purpose and not lost from CCG budgets due to their failure to spend it in this financial year.
‘It is vital that every eligible practice should have access to this vital support, to prevent any adverse effects on patient services, or even in some cases practices closing.’
Asked for a comment on the exchange, an NHS England spokesperson said: ‘The latest local team reports show investment of £9.2 million supporting over 600 struggling practices through the Vulnerable Practice Programme and investment of £11.9 million supporting over a further 500 practices through the Practice Resilience Programme.
‘All funding is committed to be spent by the end of this financial year as we deliver on our commitments set out in the General Practice Forward View.’
What money has been promised?
NHS England pledged a £10m Vulnerable Practices Fund in 2015 to urgently help practices at the brink of closure. But by January this year, only £6m had been spent.
Last year, a further £40m Practice Resilience Fund was announced in the GP Forward View, £16m of which was to be spent in 2016/17.
Pulse launched its Stop Practice Closures campaign in 2014 calling for emergency funding and support to be made urgently available to practices at risk of closure.