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‘Austerity for GPs cannot continue’, says primary care minister

Exclusive The squeeze on practice funding ‘can’t last forever’ if the Government is serious about increasing the numbers in the workforce, the primary care minister has admitted in an exclusive interview with Pulse.

David Mowat said that ‘paying GPs less’ is not a way to achieve the aim of introducing 5,000 more GPs into the workforce by 2020, and cited the 14% increase in GP funding under the GP Forward View as a signal of the way forward.

However, he stopped short of promising that that bulk of this would be delivered through core practice funding, instead saying the Department of Health would look at what is ‘right and fair’ under the GP contract.

The interview comes as contract negotiations between GPC and civil servants continue on the deal for GP practices in England from April 2017. This should see another 4% rise in the funding allocated to general practice, although it remains unclear whether practices will have to work harder to gain this rise, or whether it will be included in a global sum uplift.

Mr Mowat said that they would aim to carry on schemes, such as those to reimburse indemnity, and to encourage returners to come back and older GPs to carry on working in general practice.

But when asked by Pulse whether GPs can expect pay rises this year, he said: ‘That’s not directly the purpose of it. We look at the contract every year, and we try to make sure we know what’s right and fair.’

However, he added: ‘There has been a period of, let’s call it austerity. Not just for GPs, but everybody in the health system. That can’t last forever, and we do know we want to have more people being GPs and therefore paying them less isn’t usually a way of achieving that.

‘So in directional terms, that takes you to saying that’s not something we can continue to do. Do we want GPs to do more? Yes, and that’s why we need to have 10,000 more [GPs and practice staff] working in the profession with them.’

When challenged on whether the Government will continue with pursuing seven-day GP access – as recently questioned by new RCGP chair Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard – he signalled no retreat.

Mr Mowat said: ‘We still have a commitment in our manifesto to roll out access to GPs by 2020 and, speaking for myself, it’s not always possible to get to see a GP locally during working hours and that is something that I’m keen to be able to do.

‘Now, of course, that shouldn’t mean all GPs have to be open all the time; it just means there should be a facility so that you can actually take advantage of that. In a 21st century healthcare system, that has to be the right way to go.’

The comments come as the chair of the BMA, Dr Mark Porter, said that the Government is ‘taking credit for work they haven’t done’ by claiming a £10bn increase in health spending.

He said: ‘The chancellor, health secretary and prime minister have, at various points referred to a £10 billion increase in English NHS spending in this parliament.

‘The ”£10 billion” actually equates to a £4.5 billion increase in overall health spending.

‘The health secretary said “whether you call it £4.5 billion or £10 billion, it doesn’t matter”, I disagree. While any increase in health funding is welcome and desperately needed, this is the Government taking credit for work they haven’t done and money they haven’t found.’