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First details emerge of bids for £50m Challenge Fund cash to extend GP access

Exclusive A group of far-flung GP practices spread across England and a CCG-led initiative are among the first set of bidders for the Prime Minister’s £50m ‘Challenge Fund’, set up to expand access to general practice.

NHS England, which stopped accepting applications to the fund more than three weeks ago, has refused to disclose how many bids it has received and has said only that the response from GPs has been ‘excellent’.

But Pulse can reveal that the applications for funding include a bid from Wirral GP Dr James Kingsland, a former Department of Health adviser and president of the National Association of Primary Care, as well as two other CCGs.

Dr Kingland’s bid would see practices in various parts of the country club together to roll out the ‘never full’ access model, which aims to provide all patients with same-day appointments if needed.

Dr Kingsland declined to say how many practices in total were involved in the scheme, or where else in the country they were based. But he said the group covered 40,000 patients in total and was bidding for £1.6m, which would be used to extend the ‘never full’ model, currently deployed within core hours, to seven days a week.

Dr Kingsland said: ‘With our never-full practice concept we have proven that if you have the right resource in general practice – or the “primary care home” with a multidisciplinary team looking after patients – then you can be ‘never full’. With support from our CCG we have spent a year demonstrating that process so that we have no wait for appointments. We can manage urgent care, same-day care, residual care, so that at least within current core hours no patient can turn up to A&E or walk-in centres and say “I’m sorry I couldn’t access my GP”.’

Elsewhere, Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees CCG said a group of local practices had submitted a bid which will look to extend GP opening times, although a spokesperson declined to provide further details while the outcome of the bid is awaited.

‘The CCG is looking into increasing provision of extended access beyond core requirements on a pilot basis with its practices,’ the spokesperson said. ‘In terms of the Challenge Fund, a group of practices has applied with their expressions of interest and are waiting to hear if they have been successful.’

Dr Hugh Porter, chair of Nottingham CCG, told Pulse that the CCG has contributed to a joint bid for money from the fund.

‘On behalf of our member practices we have applied as part of a Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire wide approach with local sensitivities and approaches within the broader application,’ he said.

Dr Porter declined to give further details of the application but said that Nottingham CCG’s part of the bid does not include a seven-day 8am-8pm opening because the CCG was already set to fund a separate one-year pilot scheme to extend opening hours in local GP practices.

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We have had an excellent response to the Challenge Fund and are currently processing the applications. Successful bids will be announced at the end of March.’