Exclusive The GPC has accused NHS England of bowing to political pressures as it was revealed CCGs were asked to maintain urgent care schemes for an extra month ahead of the general election, with many CCGs forced to tap into their 2015/16 winter pressures allocations to finance it.
Among CCGs that Pulse has approached some were able to find the finance elsewhere in their budgets but several confirmed that they had indeed had to source it from next winter’s ‘system resilience’ funding, having only been told to maintain the schemes throughout April with less than one month to go in early March.
A spokesperson for NHS Dudley CCG told Pulse that the funding had been sourced ‘from the 15/16 winter allocation in the baseline.’
A spokesperson for NHS Southampton City CCG said: ‘Yes we can confirm that this money was drawn down from the 2015/16 allocation for winter pressures.’
NHS Stafford & Surrounds CCG also confirmed the funding was drawn from the 2015/16 winter money, with a spokesperson responding: ‘Yes it was.’
The news comes after NHS England made winter pressures funding available in CCG baselines for 2015/16, after the Government was criticised for not giving commissioners enough time to plan with last-minute announcements of extra tranches of funding ahead of previous winters.
The letter to CCGs from NHS England, Monitor and the Trust Development Agency, sent 2 March, said that because of a ‘decline in our delivery against the four -our A&E standard…[we] want to be clear that all schemes that have already been put in place as part of operational resilience plans for 2014/15 should continue to operate during April.’
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘In light of the continuing pressure on urgent care services, we asked local health economies to maintain their current resilience schemes until all plans for this year have been agreed. This ensured additional resilience over the Easter period.’
Although, with the Easter weekend falling on the first weekend of April this year, GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey suggested that there was another incentive to keep the schemes going until 30 April – the 7 May general election.
He said: ‘I’m not aware of NHS England being as prescriptive as this in previous years, and there is obvious huge political pressure to avoid negative stories relating to the NHS leading up to the election.
‘The problem is that the NHS is running at capacity most of the year, so it only takes very small changes in workload pressures to create a crisis. What we need is consistent and sustained funding, not short term fixes.’
As previously revealed by Pulse, NHS England also pleaded to local commissioners to put in place last-minute schemes for GPs to stay open on Easter Saturday, although Pulse found that in one practice just three patients turned up while another one saw seven during the extra three-hour shift which was costing taxpayers up to £1,000 in some areas leading to accusations of unnecessary ‘double-running’ of out-of-hours GP services.
NHS England has been allocating hundreds of millions of pounds ahead of the last two winter seasons, a time when pressure on urgent care services typically increases. The £700m allocation for the 2014/15 winter season saw CCGs spending money on a number of measures designed to relieve pressure on hospitals, including a quarter of CCGs commissioning extra GP opening.