Exclusive NHS England has spent just £4m of the £10m ‘turnaround’ fund for vulnerable GP practices at risk of closure almost a year and a half after it was first announced.
The ‘vulnerable practice fund’ was a key measure – and the only new element – of health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s ‘new deal’ for GPs when it was announced back in July 2015.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse that so far 600 practices have benefitted from the fund, out of 900 practices identified under the programme.
NHS England initially identified 800 practices in need, but a Pulse investigation last month only found a handful of areas benefitting from the scheme.
An NHS England spokesperson told Pulse: ‘NHS England is currently supporting around 600 of the 900 GP practices identified under the £10m Vulnerable Practice Programme.
‘We have spent over £4m on delivering this support so far and local team plans commit the remaining funds by the end of this year.’
But GP leaders, who have already criticised the lack of immediacy of NHS England’s support packages, said there was ‘much more to be done’ to support practices at risk.
GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘There is clearly much more that needs to be done to use the remaining money and provide critically important support to practices in need.
‘We will keep up the pressure on NHS England and CCGs to do this.’
But he added that ‘it’s good that at long last the much-needed resource in the vulnerable practice fund is being used’.
The fund was intended to be used to parachute in teams of managers and legal support to help practices adopt new ways of working or collaborate at scale.
But Pulse’s investigation found that in some areas the most precarious practices had not been able to unpick the red tape in place to access funds.
This had intially included practices having to match the funding offered to them, but this requirement was scrapped in July.
Since then, NHS England has also announced a £42m Practice Resilience Programme which should invest £16m in 2016/17, as part of the GP Forward View.
It comes as NHS England’s own director of primary care, London GP Dr Arvind Madan, has already admitted that they had not done enough to get financial support ‘out the door’ to practices in trouble.