Exclusive An NHS England regional team has ploughed more money into its seven-day GP access scheme in order to ‘keep the service alive’ and fulfil the Government’s political manifesto.
Taurus Healthcare, which has run seven-day hubs in Herefordshire since 2014 as part of the first wave of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund pilots, said it had been promised its service would be ’kept alive’ in a specific bid to fulfil the pledges made.
The Government had always claimed that the schemes would become self-sufficient from April 2016, once savings were realised from a reduction in A&E attendances, with NHS England claiming they had to have ‘clear, credible plans for delivering benefits to patients on an ongoing basis, beyond the lifetime of the pilots’.
But Taurus managing director Graeme Cleland told Pulse that the longevity of and size of funding was under discussions and that Taurus is working ‘collaboratively’ with NHS England in ’delivering the manifesto promise’.
He said: ‘As things stand at the moment we are focused on, because there is a manifesto promise, we are focused on delivering the manifesto promise and we are working on that actively as we speak.
’What we have been told is that we are working collaboratively to keep the service alive because there’s a manifesto promise and we are committed to providing seven-day primary care services.
‘We’ve been assured there is funding for the interim period whilst we can work out a longer-term solution. It is coming from the centre, from NHS England regionally.’
A spokesperson for NHS Herefordshire CCG said: ’I’m informed that one month of extra funding has been put in place to keep the Taurus hubs open.
’NHS Herefordshire CCG does not know the level of funding because Taurus was originally funded as a national pilot from the Prime Minister’s GP Access Fund and the new money is coming from NHS England.’
David Williams, lead director for primary care for NHS England in the West Midlands, said: ‘We are currently working with Taurus looking at the achievements within their pilot and how this could impact on future plans for extended access for patients. Locally we have agreed with Taurus to continue to fund their hub to gain more data and information about how their services benefit patients.’
A Pulse investigation last year found that only three areas in wave one had committed to continue to fund routine seven-day GP appointments after running out of Challenge Fund money.
Pulse also revealed that half of the first wave Challenge Fund areas cut hours in response to a lack of demand from patients – especially on Sundays – before the pilots ended.
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The official evaluation of the Challenge Fund pilots released late last year supported Pulse’s evidence that there was little demand for Sunday GP appointments from patients.
But despite this, the Government has continued to push on with its manifesto plans for all patients across England to be able to book routine GP appointments every day of the week by 2020.
During 2016/17, the Government will draw up a new alternative GP contract for practices with at least 30,000 patients which will offer seven-day access in return for sufficient funding and ‘simpler’ terms and conditions.
The Government is planning to fund this with a 4-5% increase to general practice funding every year until 2020/21.
However, GP leaders have said the Government has to focus on making general practice sustainable five days a week before spreading the service ever thinner, with a seven-day rollout costed by RCGP at £1bn extra per year.