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£10m fund for struggling practices is not new money

Exclusive The £10m ‘turnaround’ funding pledged to support struggling practices in the ‘new deal’ for general practice will come out of existing money, and will go to practices who have had issues identified by the CQC, Pulse can reveal.

A parliamentary answer from recently appointed health minister Alistair Burt in response to Labour MP Emily Thornberry revealed that the funding was to be taken from the Primary Care Infrastructure Fund, the £1bn investment over four years announced as part of the 2014 autumn statement.

It was originally believed that the funding was new, and that it would be used to help practices who were in danger of closure due to recruitment issues or withdrawal of funding, among other issues.

However, Mr Burt said that the funding will be spent where the CQC has identified a practice has ‘quality concerns in need of improvement’.

In his new deal speech, health secretary Jeremy Hunt made no reference to the funding coming out of already-announced investment.

He said: ‘I have today also asked NHS England to work with NHS Clinical Commissioners to develop a £10m programme of support for struggling practices. This will include advice and turnaround support for the practice itself and help for the practice to work with others to change its business model.’

Referencing this announcement, Ms Thornberry – who had set up a meeting between practices in danger of closing in London and health secretary Jeremy Hunt – asked whether the £10m represented new funding, what the elgibility will be, and whether it will be contingent on rolling out seven-day services.

Mr Burt said: ‘NHS England will be investing up to £10 million to develop a programme of support for general practitioner practices where the [CQC] has identified quality concerns in need of improvement.

‘The funding will be drawn from this year’s Primary Care Infrastructure Fund, a £1 billion investment over four years, announced as part of the 2014 autumn statement.

‘The programme of support will be developed with NHS Clinical Commissioners and will take learning from a pilot scheme which is being currently being delivered by the [RCGP].’

The health minister did not elaborate on the pilot, but the college has already been involved in developing the special measures support regime, which Pulse revealed could cost practices up to £5,000.

Pulse has been campaigning for funding to support struggling practices as part of its ‘Stop Practice Closures’ campaign, which called for funding to be made available to stop practices reaching crisis point as a result of recruitment issues or underinvestment.

However, the new regime appears to be contingent on the CQC having already identified issues.

Dr Naomi Beer, a GP at the Jubilee Street Practice in Tower Hamlets, London, who has led the ‘Save Our Surgeries’ campaign, said she was disappointed with the announcement.

She said: ‘They’ve obviously chosen to target it on the quality angle, I would say that’s because ministers are paranoid about giving GPs money so they feel like they have to justify it.

‘Which means they still haven’t got the message that general practice, in its entirety is in a bad place and all they’re doing once again is putting a sticking plaster on things.’

The Department of Health has been under fire since Jeremy Hunt’s speech last week, with GPs condemning the supposed ‘deal’ of taking on seven day services in exchange for minimal new investment.

An open letter and social media campaign under the #GPnodeal banner has garnered more than 3,000 signatures calling for the sustained underinvestment in core GP services to be addressed. And the BMA’s Annual Representative’s Meeting this year voted unanimously that the new deal ‘threatens the existence of general practice’.

The GPC told Pulse they would be meeting the CQC to discuss how struggling practices would be identified in the very near future, but added that the £10m funding would not last long when some practices may need significant support.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey told Pulse: ‘It is important to provide the right support for practices that are struggling, often because of issues beyond their control – £10m may sound a lot but is only a small fund when some practices may need significant infrastructure support.’