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GP premises fund raided to boost seven-day access pilots

Exclusive NHS England has raided the GP premises development fund in order to prop up the Prime Minister’s seven-day access pilots, Pulse can reveal.

In the latest example of siphoning of resources from the £1bn infrastructure pledged for improving GP premises over four years, a minister has revealed that £25m will be used to top up funding for the second wave of the GP Access, or Challenge Fund, pilots.

The significant chunk, amounting to 2.5% of the total four-year investment, is being taken out in 2015/16 despite NHS England saying the first year of the infrastructure fund investments would prioritise outstanding GP premises improvement bids.

The second wave of seven-day access pilots are already being funded via £100m investment, following a first wave which cost at least £50m but which has yet to undergo formal evaluation. Although some of that funding has gone towards increasing access in other ways, bids pledging 8am-8pm, seven days a week access were prioritised.

Responding to a parliamentary question, health minister Alistair Burt said: ‘Further funding of £100 million was announced by the Prime Minister on 30 September 2014 for a second wave of schemes and an additional £25 million has since been added from the £1 billion Infrastructure Fund.’

GP leaders reacted with concern to the news, which comes after the Government has already plundered the premises fund for the £10m ‘new deal’ funding for struggling practices and a £15m scheme to employ pharmacists in GP practices.

GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned that it was ‘becoming increasingly fashionable’ to fund Government initiatives from the promised infrastructure fund.

He said: ‘At this rate we run a real risk that there won’t be the money left to resource the desperate need for premises investment.’

Given the Government’s ‘explicit commitment’ to invest significantly more in genereal practice it ‘should be putting up new money for such initiatives, rather than ‘raiding pre-committed resources for premises’, Dr Nagpaul added.

He said: ‘If you need £25m for the Challenge Fund, it needs to be funded with new money.’

Referring to a Pulse investigation which revealed that a quarter of the first wave of seven-day access pilots have cut opening hours amid a lack of demand, Dr Nagpaul added that the whole seven-day access programme should be reassessed so as to not waste taxpayers’ money.

He said: ‘What the Government really should be doing is reassessing the whole Challenge Fund resource and how it’s being used, given evidence from some CCGs that it’s being used in ways that are not meeting patient demand.’

GPC premises lead Dr Brian Balmer said: ‘They made a decent announcement last year and then they start fiddling with it. All we’ve seen recently is spot purchases of this and that, to try and put a band aid on. Some of this [investment] may be entirely worthy, but this suddenly going for another headline instead of addressing the problem is not helping us at all.’

Note: This article was updated at 16.00 on 14 July to reflect that the Department of Health has devolved management of the GP infrastructure fund to NHS England. A previous version referred to ‘the Government’