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NHS England scraps primary care network accelerator programme



NHS England has ‘formally’ scrapped controversial plans to set up a £3m network accelerator programme.

The scheme, which selected primary care networks to become accelerator sites, was originally announced as a way to reward those making progress with funding of up to £200,000.

Following feedback from GPs, NHS England will instead pool the money into STP level funds, which have already been ‘earmarked’ to spend on PCN development, but will be allocated according to STP patient populations.

While GP leaders have welcomed the move as it no longer favours ‘thriving’ PCNs over struggling ones, they say there is still a risk that the money saved from the programme could get lost in the ‘balance book black holes.’

In NHS England’s most recent board papers, it was announced that an increase in PCN funding through ICS/STPs of a further £2.8m came instead of supporting accelerators.

The papers said: ‘We have committed to providing extra development funding of around £1m/system on a weighted capitation basis.

‘This is on top of existing allocations and the money announced in January for the GP contract. It comes out of the centrally held NHS England allocation for primary care.

‘The funding will flow through ICSs/STPs from the end of June. The amount will also be higher than listed: we will increase the total by a further £2.8million, instead of supporting a small number of PCN accelerators.’

In May, Pulse learned NHSE were offering primary care networks up to £200,000 per accelerator site out of a £3m pot, through the 2019/20 PCN programme budget.

NHS England originally planned to shortlist a maximum of 14 accelerator sites, up to two places per STP region.

The idea was initially to incentivise networks to make rapid progress and networks had to apply and meet a certain set of criteria to qualify and were financially rewarded with up to £200,000 of funding to help support growth.

But the move was criticised at the time, saying the accelerator programme was ‘elitist funding’ and widened the inequality gap within practices across the country.

NHS England said they had made the decision to scrap the programme following ‘feedback’. 

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘Listening to feedback from GPs and others in primary care, we took the decision to bring money for “accelerator” sites together with overall funding for PCN development. This will allow local systems to decide how best to use funds to support all PCNs to develop.’

GP leaders have welcomed the move, saying that the ’ill-thought-out’ scheme would have neglected deprived struggling areas if followed through.

Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire LMCs chief executive Dr Matt Mayer said: ’It is encouraging to hear that NHS England has taken the concerns of GPs on board and scrapped the PCN accelerator programme. This scheme would have concentrated funds into areas which are already thriving whilst neglecting those areas that are struggling and need it most.

‘This would have created a two-tier primary care system, and only served to produce a handful of well funded high flying PCNs which the Government would no doubt cite as biased evidence that PCNs are saving general practice.

Dr Mayer added he is glad the money is staying in primary care, as long as it isn’t spent on deficits and management costs.

He said: ’It is right that this money remains in primary care, but only as long as it is equitably distributed to front line practices rather than being absorbed into deficits or management costs.

’The bottom line is that there is not enough money in the PCN DES to take it beyond 2020 and the Government needs to urgently realise that and address it.’

July newsletter from Londonwide LMCs, which said: ’NHS England has formally scrapped its plans to fund select PCNs to act as accelerator sites to evaluate the best methods of quickly developing PCNs. This money will instead be rolled into STP level funds which have already been earmarked for supporting PCN development, with funding allocated based on STP patient populations.’

A Londonwide LMCs spokesperson told Pulse that the news had been ‘quietly’ passed around to CCG chairs from NHS England regional teams around the end of June and that the money set aside for the scheme would be rolled into other PCN development funds that will be passed around at STP level.

Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage added: ’We welcome that NHS England has listened to LMCs and the GPC in deciding to scrap these ill-thought-out PCN accelerator sites.

’It is right that this funding will now become equitably available between all PCNs, rather than targeted towards a favoured few, but we still need to see it reaching the frontline, rather than disappearing into balance-book black holes.’

A think tank recently said networks were introduced at a ‘very difficult time’ for general practice and were rushed, so as a result, may not succeed.