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Health secretary commits to ‘reversing’ GP underfunding on first NHS visit

Health secretary commits to ‘reversing’ GP underfunding on first NHS visit

Wes Streeting has said he is ‘committed to reversing’ the underfunding of general practice, in one of his first announcements as health secretary.

During his first official visit in the role – to a London GP practice – Wes Streeting reiterated Labour’s promise to ‘bring back the family doctor’ and said it is ‘absurd’ that GPs are struggling to find jobs.

He also said it is ‘no surprise’ that patients struggle to access their practice, since ‘GPs and primary care has been receiving a smaller proportion of NHS resources’. 

Labour’s election manifesto carried no promises of increased investment in general practice, but in his previous shadow health secretary role, Mr Streeting had claimed that GPs have ‘a lot to look forward to’ under a Labour Government.

There were also suggestions that primary care’s proportion of the NHS budget ‘ought to increase’ and Labour would seek to do this ‘over time’.

Last year, Mr Streeting sought to reassure acute trusts that Labour would not ‘just take a chunk’ of their budget and ‘stick it elsewhere’ on the ‘first day under a Labour government’. 

However, this commitment to ‘reversing’ general practice underfunding comes just four days into the new Labour Government’s term

Mr Streeting was joined by NHS England chief executive Amanda Pritchard on a visit to Abbey Medical Centre in St John’s Wood. 

The health secretary said: ‘Patients are finding it harder than ever to see a GP. Patients can’t get through the front door of the NHS, so they aren’t getting the timely care they need.

‘That’s no surprise, when GPs and primary care has been receiving a smaller proportion of NHS resources. I’m committed to reversing that.’

Mr Streeting did not state the value of any uplift to general practice funding, but yesterday the BMA’s GP Committee called for an increase in its proportion of NHS funding by 1% year on year to reach 15% of the overall budget over time.

In the last financial year, primary medical care accounted for 8.4% of the total NHS budget, compared to 41.4% for acute care.

The health secretary also said he is ‘determined to make the NHS more of a neighbourhood health service’, because if patients cannot access their GP, they ‘end up in A&E’ which is more expensive and worse for patients. 

‘My first visit as health secretary was to a GP practice because when we said we want to shift the focus of the NHS out of hospitals and into the community, we meant it,’ Mr Streeting added.

During his visit, Mr Streeting spoke to Dr Nancy Ng, a GP trainee who highlighted the ‘anxiety’ among her peers who are ‘worried about looking for a job’.

In response, shown in a video published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the health secretary hinted that the Government will make moves to ‘solve’ issues like this.

‘It is absurd that GPs can’t find jobs at the same time as patients can’t get a GP appointment. The great thing about the last week is that we can no go from having a debate about these issues, to really trying to solve them.’

Ms Pritchard said GPs and their teams ‘are the bedrock of the NHS’ but they are ‘under huge pressure’ to deliver. 

‘We know there is much more work to do to support them and to transform primary care services. We look forward to working with the government and colleagues in primary care to do that,’ she added. 

Posting on X after the visit, Ms Pritchard indicated that NHS England is aware of the difficulties GP practices face.

‘Primary care will be central to the NHS’ future, but we’re clear on the big challenges we need to overcome to realise that potential.’ 

One of the GPs at the practice, Dr Ellie Cannon, said the team ‘had a lot of time’ with the new health secretary, and that he spoke with ‘juniors, partners, admin colleagues, patients’. 

In a post on X, she continued: ‘Absolutely honest about general practice and NHS! We have a lot to be proud of but it didn’t stop us also being frank about the issues.’

RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne has said she is ‘really encouraged’ that Mr Streeting’s first visit was to a GP practice.

She also welcomed his commitment to increase GP funding, but said they ‘now wait to see exactly what that funding and additional support will look like’.

‘Alongside this extra funding, we look forward to working with Wes Streeting and his team to ensure that we have the right balance of workforce we need to look after our patients, in particular we need more GPs working in our practices,’ Professor Hawthorne added.

The Doctors’ Association UK also welcomed the health secretary’s commitment, saying it is ‘extremely hopeful’ that general practice is a top Government priority.

GP spokesperson Dr Steve Taylor said: ‘We are happy to see Wes Streeting state the need for extra funding so clearly, while we also recognise that the details are important.’

He warned that the details ‘will be extremely important’ since NHS England has already ‘spent a lot of money and resources on anything other than GP practices’.

‘Any extra funding needs to go to core general practice for funding GPs and practice nurses,’ Dr Taylor said.

Although it has said it will shift funding to primary care, the Government’s emphasis has been on reform of primary care, with plans to trial ‘neighbourhood health centres’ which would have GPs and other community health staff ‘under one roof’.

To support with wider NHS reform, the Government is set to bring back former Labour health secretary Alan Milburn, who spearheaded increased private involvement in the NHS.

On the first day in his new role, Mr Streeting announced that the ‘policy’ of his department going forward is that the ‘NHS is broken’.

He also committed to negotiations with the BMA junior doctors committee to end strike action, and he will meet with them today.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Liquorice Root- Bitter and Twisted. 9 July, 2024 10:39 am

Can we be optimistic? Possibly.
The smallest deed is worth the grandest intention.

Yes Man 9 July, 2024 11:01 am

Health secretary will have to step on a lot of toes…hope he has an iron chin and best of luck to the fella.

Andrew Jackson 9 July, 2024 12:12 pm

It’s always ‘jam tomorrow’.
As we speak, we have ICBs driving down the cost and funding of many enhanced services etc.
Let’s see what happens around this years imposed contract and DDRB recommendations before we crack open the champagne.

Darren Tymens 9 July, 2024 12:32 pm

It seems Wes is now saying all the right things, which is great – and no doubt largely due to KBS’s influence and the threat of looming GP action – but….
1. investment in primary care is *not* investment in GP. Let’s see a fixed 13% of the NHS budget spent in general practice annually, please.
2. People have talked convincingly about their intentions to disinvest from hospitals in order to invest in general practice and community services for over 20 years, *but no one has achieved it*. It is *always* sabotaged by NHS managers and hospitals (acting out of self-interest). What is Wes going to do differently to achieve what has been unachievable so far? Everyone around him at NHSE and DHSC will agree with him publicly, and then quietly sabotage him, just like they have been doing to well-meaning Health Secretaries for 20 years.
3. Clearly Amanda is still wedded to ‘transformation’. This will be no good for practices or patients if ‘primary care investment’ is given to hospitals to set up CDCs and Fuller Hubs.
4. There hasn’t (as far as I can see) been a commitment to maintain and invest in the partnership model, despite there being plenty of evidence of safety and efficiency. Ironically, the suposedly new model of ‘neighbourhood health centres’ just describes what partnerships were like 20 years ago, before NHSE decided to undermine and micromanage general practice.
Still, hopefully this is progress? I wish Wes all the best in his attempts. The next GP contract will make or break the NHS – and his reputation.

Lochend Lad 9 July, 2024 1:24 pm

Spanning the last 2 decades in addition to underfunding of Practices centrally. PCTs CCGs and now ICBs have diverted funds supposedly ring-fenced for General Practice to support failing Acute Trusts. If central funding for General Practice does increase relative to the hospital sector, robbing Peter to pay Paul cannot be permitted.

Not on your Nelly 9 July, 2024 1:56 pm

All very good words on day one. It is unlikely to transform into anything of use to anyone. There is no money already stated. I am not sure we can expect much. If you are not already working to rule, you are providing services for free. Stop it now.

Dave Haddock 9 July, 2024 6:22 pm

Not at all clear that GP is underfunded; our PCN is paying £360 per hour for a GP doing extended hours. In the Chair’s own Practice, naturally.
However the simplest and fairest mechanism to increase funding would be to introduce charges for considerations, as done in much of the civilised world without corpses piling up in the streets.

Dave Haddock 9 July, 2024 6:23 pm

Not at all clear that GP is underfunded; our PCN is paying £360 per hour for a GP doing extended hours. In the Chair’s own Practice, naturally.
However the simplest and fairest mechanism to increase funding would be to introduce charges for considerations, as done in much of the civilised world.

Centreground Centreground 9 July, 2024 7:01 pm

I agree with DH – PCNs in my view have wasted vast NHS resources in hundreds of millions and as often is the case it is the same unscrupulous individuals who lead as PCN CDs and also sit on ICB boards, LMCs and also NHS England( with many exceptions) .
Hence, it will be a difficult problem to unravel due to vested interests and as motivated as always by excessive financial gain and status with the same causal individuals who have led us into this abyss.
This NHS mess has not happened by chance -it has been orchestrated and led by this so called leadership group over decades !

Just My Opinion 9 July, 2024 8:45 pm

It’s already been said above, we know the score. Believe it when we see it etc etc
The reality is, since hospitals are in debt even now, redirecting resource from them to primary care, means hospitals going bust.
That can’t be allowed to happen (politically I mean).
So I do not see how this can work.
Unless they change their policy of no extra money for the NHS.

Sujoy Biswas 10 July, 2024 4:41 am

Dream on, the UK is broke there is no money.

Some Bloke 10 July, 2024 7:36 am

Not holding my breath.
Tomorrow he will visit a hospital to announce record share of NHS funding to be directed to them.

So the bird flew away 10 July, 2024 9:29 am

Obviously GP funding will increase. The only question is where the money comes from. Not too keen it comes from reallocation from the secondary care pot – will divide Dr against Dr for a start. Prefer it comes from the private sector – eg reallocation from corporate subsidies, increase tax on share transactions etc. There’s countless ways to raise the funds for GP. It only requires radical thinking and will, and being unafraid to tackle powerful interests in the corporate sector.

David OHagan 11 July, 2024 4:01 pm

One positive step would be to order ICBs to move towards increasing the proportion of their budget going into General Practice.
The ever increasing funding of so called community projects from secondary care providers leads only to a reduced deliver of patient care. Each time they have to reinvent GPs or more usually simply waste the cash on services delivered to a tiny proportion of the intended population.

Janine O'Kane 12 July, 2024 6:11 pm

He could do it today if he wanted