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NHS chief hints at transfer of hundreds of millions of pounds to general practice

The NHS has been ‘pennywise and pound foolish’ by underfunding general practice, and has hinted that he would look to transfer hundreds of millions of pounds from secondary care to general practice, NHS chief executive Simon Stevens has said.

Mr Stevens suggested increased funds could come to general practice ‘in the short term’ in the form of ‘at least a third of a billion pounds’ in return for demand being absorbed in general practice rather than hospitals.

He also said NHS England would soon be making a ‘big announcement’ around pharmacists and practices working closer together, while describing general practice workforce issues as one of NHS England’s ‘must get right’ things for the next five years.

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Liverpool today, Mr Stevens said the costing, set out by the RCGP, was a ‘compelling one’, adding that general practice would also have to work more efficiently in new care models such as multi-speciality community providers and GP federations.

He said: ‘We have sometimes been pennywise and pound-foolish and that is nowhere more evident than in our relative under-investment in primary care, general practice. I think that the case that the RCGP makes for investment in general practice, sizing that as at least a third of a billion pounds of savings in offset demand flowing up to hospitals in the short term is a compelling one.’

Mr Stevens was also put on the spot by conference delegates about GP workforce issues. He said a number of key things had to happen, including improving recruitment and retention.

He said: ‘We have got to not only make it more attractive to come into general practice but we’ve got to probably take a range of other measures to try and hit this goal of 50% of new medical graduates will go into general practice.’

GP workloads had to be addressed, he said, trailing a forthcoming announcement about pharmacists working with GP practices.

He said: ‘We’ve got to get more serious about multi-disciplinary working in primary care, including pharmacists and we are going to be saying more about that quite soon.’

Also in response to a question, Mr Stevens promised that he would personally look into the issue of rising GP indemnity costs which are making it harder to staff out-of-hours shifts.

He said: ‘It sounds like that is the kind of thing that would be hard for an individual out of hours co-op or CCG to sort but perhaps collectively we could do that nationally, so I will certainly take a look at that personally.

Within the same speech, Mr Stevens also announced that NHS England alongside Monitor, TDA, CQC and HEE will be placing a number of English health economies into a new ‘success regime’ measure, whereby they will diagnose long term ‘systemic inbalance’ which is affecting quality or structure of their services or financial problems.

He said the first areas would be Essex, north Cumbria and northeast and west Devon, with more potentially to follow.

These areas will be helped by national advice and £10m fund, NHS England explained, with Mr Stevens describing the move as ‘a different way of having a structured intervention in trying to put those places onto sustainable footing’.