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Primary care to receive £3.5bn a year boost by 2023/24

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged an extra £3.5bn real terms annual funding for primary and community care by 2023/24, as part of the £20.5bn funding increase for the NHS announced earlier this year.

In the announcement, made earlier today, Ms May said the money will be used to ensure that more patients are cared for at home and in the community, rather than in hospitals.

Ms May also announced two initiatives: new community-based 24/7 rapid response teams including GPs, nurses and physiotherapists, to care for those who would be better treated at home than in hospital; and a national programme where healthcare professionals, including pharmacists and GPs, are assigned to care homes, and can offer emergency care during out of hours

However, with details currently lacking on how this money will be allocated, GP leaders have stressed there must be ‘no delay in it reaching the frontline as soon as possible’.

The new investment in primary and community healthcare will build on the ‘existing NHS budget for these services’ and forms ‘a key part of the long-term plan for the NHS,’ according to the PM’s statement.

‘The new approach we’re setting out today will mean more people can leave hospital quicker, or avoid being admitted in the first place – which is better for patients and better for the health service,’ she said.

Ms May also claimed that the new funding boost was as a direct result of withdrawing from the European Union.

She said: ‘Leaving the EU means taking back control of our money as we will no longer be sending vast sums to Brussels. This helps our public finances and means we have more money to spend on domestic priorities like our NHS. And we’ve been able to fully fund this historic commitment without raising taxes.’

In June, the Government announced the NHS would recieve a £20.5bn funding boost that would be spent according to a long-term plan for the NHS – the full details of which have yet to be revealed.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said today: ‘GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. To make the NHS sustainable for the long term we need more prevention as well as cure. So we will back our GPs, primary and community healthcare to help keep people healthy and out of hospital in the first place. Every patient deserves to receive care tailored to their needs.’

He added: ‘This additional funding of £3.5bn a year by 2023/24 demonstrates our commitment to primary and community healthcare, capable of relieving the burden on our hospitals over the coming years and revolutionising the way high-quality care is delivered for our most vulnerable patients.’

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said that while the funding boost is ‘important’, the BMA will seek ‘urgent assurance’ that it ‘really is new investment for general practice’.

He said: ‘As ever, the devil will be in the detail. We have been clear that general practice needs an urgent increase in investment to address the pressures affecting the profession and patients, and while this announcement is an important step forward, we will be seeking urgent assurance that this really is new investment for general practice and we will want early discussions on the detail of where the money will be spent.

‘The government has said this funding will reach £3.5bn a year by 2023, but it is also imperative that there is no delay in it reaching the frontline as soon as possible.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard echoed the call to ensure practices get the investment they ‘desperately need’. 

She said: ‘The forthcoming NHS long term plan is an opportunity to ensure general practice receives the investment it desperately needs, so that we can continue to deliver the care our patients deserve.

‘We look forward to more details about the plans announced today, and how the long-term plan will increase funding for general practice over time, so that we can reach the necessary 11% of the overall NHS England budget as soon as possible.’

But some GPs are sceptical about whether this money will actually reach them, and if it will be enough to address existing pressures on the profession.

Loughborough GP Dr Dermot Ryan said: ‘2023/24 is four or five years down the line, one wonders whether primary care will still exist at that time – it’s too little too late.

‘These mutterings about something in the future will not solve the problems now.’

‘If they funded general practices properly in the first place, they wouldn’t need to come up with these cock-eyed schemes. Since 2004, we have seen successive government initiatives to take GPs out of the equation.’

Escalating pressures on GPs have led to calls in recent months for limits to be placed on GP workload.

In October the BMA called for the long-term plan to allow GPs to set workload limits, in an effort to avoid ‘a series of serious issues’ in primary care.

Later this week, England LMC leaders are set to vote on whether to instate a new limit of 1,500 registered patients per full-time GP.