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GPs received £80m more than planned last year, NHS England chief says

NHS England invested £80m more in general practice last year than it had planned to in the April 2016 GP Forward View, NHS England’s chief executive has said.

Speaking at the Best Practice conference last week, Simon Stevens said he was ‘proud’ of the increasing investment in general practice, highlighting a 3.2% ‘real terms increase’ in funding in 2016/17.

NHS England told Pulse later that £10.2bn was invested in general practice in 2016/17 compared with the planned figure of £10.12bn. 

Mr Stevens’ figures come from NHS Digital’s Investment in General Practice statistics. The BMA had previously criticised the figures for revealing that the proportion of health service funds spent on GP services had fallen in the past decade, dropping to 7.9% of the overall NHS budget in 2016/17 compared with 9.6% in 2005/06.

But Mr Stevens said that the statistics also revealed that overall funding for general practice had increased.

He said: ‘If I’m proud of one thing about the work of NHS England is that in the four years prior to the creation of NHS England, investment in GP services were going down year by year by year and in each of the four years since the creation of NHS England, GP investment has now started to go back up.’

‘So the last year 2016/17 figures just out, show another 3.2% real terms increase meaning that we’re about £80m ahead of the investment profile, the increases that we set out in the GP Forward View.’

In his speech, Simon Stevens also hailed ‘primary care homes’ as ‘central to what the future of general practice looks like’, adding that 190 primary care homes are now running across the country and covering eight million patients.

Primary care homes are multidisciplinary teams of clinicians from general practice, community, mental health and acute trusts, social care and the voluntary sector that care for a defined, registered population of between 30,000 and 50,000.

While Mr Stevens commended general practice for being ‘adaptive’, at the same conference, Dr Robert Varnam said getting ‘stuck’ is a ‘common experience for people who are trying to lead change’.

Dr Varnam said: ‘When you look at the vanguards, when you look at people trying to spread primary care homes, when you look at people in the GP Access Fund, what you find very consistently is there’s a really great idea – but they gave up.

‘Or a really great idea that made excruciatingly slow progress and there are some really common themes for how we approach it when it gets stuck like that.’

He said he often hears from GPs who are trying to ‘make people do what we want them to do’ in an effort to work at scale but added that the NHS has ‘tended to ask the question how we manage change, how we make change happen’.

But he said that GPs should be encouraged ‘to talk about why’ they are making changes to their practices and ‘lead with purpose’.

Dr Varnam added that general practice ‘has narrowed its focus on purpose’, instead focusing on medical care and ‘being very, very busy’. 

He said: ‘We’ve lost our focus on prevention and looking after a whole population, a registered list, not just each individual person that comes through the door and I think that’s been very disempowering and I think it’s taken a lot of energy out of general practice for many GPs.’