NHS England has spent only £6m of the £10m pledged as urgent support for vulnerable practices in 2015, despite their most senior GP saying last year the whole fund should reach practices by the end of 2016.
NHS England director of primary care Dr Arvind Madan said in December 2016 that the remaining funds would be ‘spent by the end of this calendar year’, just weeks after Pulse revealed that the fund was less than half spent since it was announced in July 2015.
But the RCGP has reported that only £6m had been spent by 13 January this year, while only £2.5m of the £16m follow up scheme – announced in the GP Forward View – had been spent.
The college said they had ‘grave concerns’ with the lack of progress in helping vulnerable practices.
An NHS England spokesperson confirmed the figures, and told Pulse that while the remaining practices had been ‘allocated’ funding support, the funds would not be fully spent until the end of the financial year.
This comes as Pulse revealed that partners in one practice were forced to sell medical equipment to pay the costs of the closure, after being refused vulnerable practice fund support because they didn’t meet the ‘criteria’.
The fund – which was first announced as part of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ‘new deal’ in July 2015 – has been plagued with controversy, with Pulse revealing that even practices identified as being at high risk of closure had been left awaiting funding.
This included practices in Walsall being told they had to pay upfront costs to cover a practice visit to assess just what support they would receive.
The RCGP report said: ‘Given the serious pressures that GPs and their teams are currently facing, it is of grave concern that the delayed progress of this vital programme has resulted in it having such a limited impact so far on the ground.
‘In particular it is unacceptable that the central government procurement rules by which NHS England is bound have been allowed to act as a barrier to NHS England local area teams quickly commissioning the support practices need.’
The RCGP is now calling for unspent funding to be rolled over into the next financial year to ensure it is not lost to general practice.
The report said: ‘As it now appears very unlikely that the full £16m will be spent before the financial year end, NHS England must ensure that the remainder is retained for investment as soon as possible in 2017/18.’
NHS England said last year that 600 practices, out of more than 800 identified as vulnerable, had received some support but Dr Madan has admitted they ’haven’t done enough to get support out the door to vulnerable practices’.
Dr Madan told Pulse last week: ‘We are now supporting around 600 practices through this programme. We have allocated all £10m funds to deliver this support and almost two-thirds of it is spent. In addition we have allocated a further £16m to help even more practices benefit.’
Please note: this story was updated at 9:30 on Wednesday 1 February