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600 practices could benefit from £10m NHS ‘vulnerable practice’ fund

Exclusive Around 600 vulnerable practices across the UK could receive a share of support from the £10m pot pledged by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, to shore up struggling practices.

Leaked plans from NHS South West regional team reveal that 17 practices have been identified for support from the area’s chunk of the fund, working out at an average of £16,000 each. 

Such a level of support replicated across England would see around 620 practices benefitting from the fund – covering around 3.7million patients.

The £10m pilot scheme this year aims to parachute rescue teams into at-risk surgeries, offering specialist help with staff, finances and IT. It also may involve clinical backfill or other support to enable practices ’to engage with a package of support/discussions about mergers’.

But the GPC has said that the £10m fund is not enough and the requirement for practices to match any funding support they are given will exclude some of the most vulnerable.

The fund was announced as part of Mr Hunt’s ‘new deal’ last July, but Pulse later revealed this was not new money and NHS England took six months to contact area teams and ask them to idenitify practices that are struggling.

NHS managers were asked to identify practices that were vulnerable through using a ‘risk matrix’ detailed by NHS England and submit the names of these practices last Friday. They were asked to prioritise practices that had received poor CQC reports, that had a high number of patients per GP and even those with high antibiotic prescribing among other factors.

Plans by NHS South West obtained by Pulse detailed 17 practices that were eligible to receive a share of the £273,000 it has been allocated, covering around 100,000 patients, and outlined how it would be spent.

However, one of the practices – Victoria Park Practice in Bridgwater, Somerset – said they were having funding cut under PMS reviews  despite working in one of the most deprived areas of the country.

Paul Cawkwell, practice manager, said: ‘NHS England is not doing anything to sustain us, they are taking money off us.’

Pulse has learnt that many LMCs have not been contacted about the practices identified as vulnerable. Dr Uzma Ahmed, assistant medical secretary of Walsall LMC told Pulse: ’No-body has consulted us from the area team. We only found out about it two days before the deadline.’

Dr Peter Graves, chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMCs, said he had been working with the area team, but raised doubts about the scheme: ‘I honestly don’t believe pumping a bit of money into one particularly vulnerable practice is going to have a long-term effect.’

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GPC deputy chair Dr Vautrey told Pulse that identifying practices ’could be more complex than the NHS England plans have intimated’. He added: ‘There are many practices who could fall within this, but you recognise there’s a limited amount of resource and there’s a big issue that practices have to match funding.’

NHS England’s change of attitude to practice closures

Stop Practice Closures-logo-online-330

Stop Practice Closures-logo-online-330

Two years ago Pulse launched Stop Practice Closures At the time, an NHS England spokesperson said they were unconcerned about closures as they happen ‘all the time’.

However, following campaigning from Pulse, the BMA and the RCGP, there have been greater moves to help vulnerable practices. 

Last year, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced he would pledge £10m for a ‘turnaround programme’ to prevent practices closing, as part of his ‘new deal’ for general practice.

Later in the year, NHS England appointed 21 providers that will step in and take over the running of struggling GP practices at short notice in the south of England.

And, in December, director of commissioning Rosamond Roughton, told area teams how much they would receive from the £10m fund, and told them to submit plans on how they would spend it, and to list practices that would benefit from support.

Pulse has already shown how 200,000 patients were displaced in 2015 as a result of practices and branch surgeries shutting their doors, a 50% increase on 2014.

Read more: Rescue bid for vulnerable practices – too little, too late?