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Burnham: Labour would halt practice funding cuts

Exclusive The Labour Party will halt the withdrawal of MPIG and the sweeping PMS clawbacks affecting GPs if it wins the next general election, Pulse can reveal.

The promise was made for the first time by shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, the Labour MP for Leigh, in an exclusive interview with Pulse as he warned that the funding cuts could have ‘dire consequences for certain practices’.

Mr Burnham, who was health secretary from 2009 to 2010, was forceful in his critique of the Government’s handling of the removal of the MPIG saying that if it could be phased out it had to be done in a way where it did not, as presently, threaten the viability of practices.

He said: ‘I find it is another one of these things that this Government has done which is a completely false economy. You take that money out of there, to spend a lot more money dealing with the consequences of a so-called saving.’

He added: ‘I’ll be honest with you, when I was a minister I used to look at the GP contract and say “ooh, that’s a lot of money on that MPIG, is that necessary?” and I was always warned by civil servants to be very careful, maybe it can be progressively phased out, but abrupt changes with MPIG will have very significant consequences for practices in certain localities.’

Asked whether this meant he would halt the withdrawal should Labour take over Government from next May, he hesitated briefly but then answered: ‘Well, yes is the answer. It is not for me to start writing the detail of spending policies right now and I have to look at exactly what I inherit, but I will halt the situation where any practice is on the brink of closure.’

‘If MPIG can be phased out eventually it has to be done over a longer period of time to the point where no practice has its viability threatened as far as I’m concerned.’

‘The MPIG changes, you asked me directly, so yes, it doesn’t make sense to do what they are doing on the timetable they are doing it, it really doesn’t.’

NHS England has agreed to freeze the funding cuts for MPIG practices which stand to lose more than £3 per patient. However, the offer comes with a number of stringent terms and for two years only.

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter claimed last week that freezing the withdrawal of the MPIG for all GP practices for the rest of this financial year would cost £11m, which the GPC has said is a ‘relatively small amount’ of savings compared with the problems it causes practices.

Asked whether his promise applied also to PMS reviews, Mr Burnham added: ‘Yeah well that too. They were there for good reasons and I can understand NHS England sitting there saying “well we’re paying this for this one and this for that one” but there may be a bloody good reason why we are having to pay more, and people need to remember the history of how did we get to this situation. But just to kind of chop it back down to a [level], you might find that that has a very dire consequence for certain practices.’

Asked whether he welcomed Mr Burnham’s comments, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey gave a cautious response.

He said: ‘This is only good news if it actually happens – if he is elected and implements that policy – but it is not just about halting the withdrawal, we need to see real investment into general practice across the board. There are many practices who haven’t got MPIGs, or haven’t got PMS funding, who have been struggling quite significantly. So it isn’t just those practices that are being affected by the losses, it is the many practices which don’t have that funding in the first place who are significantly struggling too.’

‘Until Andy Burnham, or Jeremy Hunt, or whoever is going to be health secretary, recognises that there is a fundamental need to increase the investment in general practice to at least 11% of the NHS spend, and if possible more than that, then we are not going to see a change to what is happening at the moment.’

Pulse reported last week that Cambridgeshire LMC has become the first in England to reject the offer made by NHS England to mitigate the effects of the withdrawal of MPIG saying the process for supporting practices that were most under threat was ‘unreasonable on a number of grounds’ and ‘unfit for purpose’ in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

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