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Minister offers new money to boost GP access … and then realises his mistake

A health minister’s statement in Parliament will be rewritten after he incorrectly suggested CCGs would be given millions in additional funding to expand access to GPs.

In response to a question from a fellow MP on how video and other technology was being introduced in primary care, health minister Alistair Burt said that ‘during 2017/18, £171 million will be made available to CCGs to enable practices to upscale and implement measures tested through the access fund’.

But after an enquiry from Pulse, the Department of Health said it would be looking at ‘changing the Hansard’ (the written records of Parliament business) as there was no new money available on top of the £500m already allocated by 2020.

The controversial GP Access Fund, launched by the Prime Minister in 2014, has been used to increase access to GP appointments 8-8, seven days a week in two waves of pilots across England. Measures to improve access in the pilots has also included increasing the use of technology, such as offering video consultations.

However, in many areas CCGs have threatened to cancel schemes and so NHS England is now providing an unspecified amount of bridging funding to retain pilot sites’ access levels.

A Department of Health spokesperson told Pulse: ‘To clarify, there’s absolutely no change in approach.’ 

The GP Forward View also said that NHS England ‘will provide additional funding, on top of current primary medical care allocations’ and that this would be ‘over £500 million by 2020/21 – to enable CCGs to commission and fund extra capacity across England to ensure that by 2020, everyone has access to GP services’.

Update: This correction has now been published – link here.


Cost of seven-day access

The Challenge Fund, renamed the GP Access Fund, supplied £50m to CCGs to rollout extended access from 2014/15. A second £100m wave was announced for the following year – later extended with an extra £25m from the then-supposed-to-be premises upgrade fund.

But as revealed by Pulse, NHS England is providing ongoing funding to all of the Prime Minister’s seven-day access pilots after their funding has run out, despite plans for them to become self-sustaining by cutting the number of A&E attendances at weekends and evenings.

The official interim evaluation recommended Sunday opening is ditched due to a lack of demand, with the potential of commissioning extended evening opening or Saturday morning clinics.

And Pulse has reported that almost half of the Challenge Fund/GP Access pilots reduced opening hours, amid lacking patient demand and uncertainty over future funding.