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Devolved nations must spend Barnett formula funding boost on NHS, RCGP urges

Additional funding owed to the devolved nations under the Barnett formula after Theresa May announced an extra £20bn for the NHS in England must be spent on health and stabilising general practice, the Royal College of GPs has urged.

Under Barnett rules, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each receive a funding boost due to the promise of extra income for the NHS in England, but it does not have to be spent on health.

In June, Ms May announced the £20bn NHS funding increase over the next five years, translating to a 3.4% year-on-year annual funding increase in England.

Scotland is set to receive £2bn extra in real terms by 2023, with £1.2bn expected to go to Wales and £600 million to Northern Ireland.

RCGP Wales said the additional funding must be invested in patient care and to ensure sustainability of general practice.

Dr Rebecca Payne, chair of RCGP Wales, said underinvestment in community care alongside GP shortages and rising workloads was leading to unsustainable conditions.

‘GPs and their teams are working under immense pressure and are struggling to provide timely care to all patients.

‘The strain is taking its toll on patient care. A recent survey found that 42% of patients said they found it difficult to make a convenient appointment with their GP.’

This is not good enough – patients across Wales must be able to see a GP when they need to,’ she added.

Previous analysis by the RCGP has shown general practice in Wales receives the lowest proportion of NHS spend in the UK nations – at 7.3%.

Dr Payne said that for the NHS to survive another 70 years and beyond, general practice services must be ‘robust’.

‘The Welsh Government has the power to ensure this. I urge them to grasp the opportunity provided by the £1.2 billion funding, made available through the Barnett formula, and take action to reduce pressure on general practice services,’ she said.

She added that the money could support investment in the roll-out of physiotherapists, social workers, pharmacists, paramedics and mental health specialists to practices across Wales.

‘This will provide immediate relief for GPs and their teams and help stabilise general practice,’ she said.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman said it welcomed the additional funding, but was still awaiting the exact details.

‘While we welcome any additional funding, we await details of what that additional funding for Wales will be. However, it cannot be forgotten that had the Welsh budget seen real terms growth between 2010/11 and 2019/20, the budget would be some £4bn higher than it is today,’ she said.

Dr Carey Lunan, chair of RCGP Scotland, said: ‘We hope that the money from the Barnett consequentials will be ring-fenced and appropriately applied in Scotland – in a way which recognises the crucial role of general practice and community-based health and social care, if we are to reduce unnecessary admissions to, and delayed discharges from hospital.

‘This is the Government’s opportunity to achieve the ambitions of the Scottish National Clinical Strategy and Vision 2020 of ensuring that more patients can be cared for at home or in a homely setting.’

Scottish Conservatives have previously called for ‘every penny’ of the additional funding to be spent on the NHS.

But at the time the NHS funding boost was announced the then Scottish health secretary, Shona Robison, welcomed the money but warned plans to fund it through a Brexit dividend were ‘not credible’.

Meanwhile, Dr Grainne Doran, chair of RCGP Northern Ireland, said additional money for the NHS was ‘essential’ to ensure it is modern and fit-for-purpose.

‘Should money be found to fulfil the promise of an additional £20billion for the NHS, it is essential that the equivalent monies allocated to Northern Ireland are spent on health and social care.

‘Progress is currently being made to advance the health and social care transformation agenda, and general practice plays a significant role in the restructuring of our services for the future – any additional money should help to accelerate reform implementation in Northern Ireland,’ she added.

She said that in the absence of ministers in Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and the head of the Civil Service ‘must…ensure that the full amount of additional investment is allocated to the health service.’

‘This money is not a present – it is public money and clear accountability for its use is essential,’ she added.