General practice will not receive any funding from the Government’s newly announced £200m pot aimed at easing NHS winter pressures.
Yesterday, the Prime Minister held a winter planning meeting with clinical leaders including the RCGP, and today the Government announced new investment ‘to boost NHS resilience’.
However, RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorne said it is ‘disappointing’ that the winter plan does not include any ‘additional funding for primary care’.
The Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) announcement does not specify how the £200m will be spent, but it said the funding ‘will ensure patients are seen as quickly as possible, while also driving forward plans to cut waiting lists’.
According to the NHS performance statistics published today, at the end of July there were 7.7 million people waiting to start treatment, which means the number has increased by more than 100,000 since June.
Professor Hawthorne said it was ‘encouraging’ that the RCGP was invited along with secondary care colleagues to the winter planning meeting yesterday.
But she emphasised that primary care must not be ‘overlooked’ if the Government wants to ‘prevent a health crisis this winter’.
She said: ‘As the front door to the NHS, general practice manages a huge volume of patient contacts, more so than any other part of our health service.
‘GPs are delivering tens of millions of appointments per month, even more than before the pandemic, but now with 952 fewer fully qualified, full-time GPs than 2019.
‘If our under-staffed GP teams are unable to cope with an influx of patients this winter, we’ll likely see unsustainable spill over into other, equally under pressure, branches of the health service – further jeopardising the effectiveness of the NHS.’
Chairman of Gateshead and South Tyneside LMC Dr Paul Evans said his ICB, North East and North Cumbria, confirmed in writing earlier this week that none of the winter pressures funding in that area would be allocated to general practice.
He said: ‘I find it puzzling because clearly we’re running at winter pressures levels already in general practice and secondary care.
‘We know that spending money in general practice is massively efficient in terms of preventing admissions and reducing overall spend.
‘So I don’t really understand – it seems to be an example of being penny wise and pound foolish.’
Dr Evans added: ‘I think the winter is going to be absolutely dreadful for NHS staff in general practice and secondary care, and for patients. I suspect we’re going to see a significant number of excess deaths. I suspect we’re going to see hospital admissions going up further.’
Medical secretary for Mid Mersey LMC Dr Ivan Camphor said he is ‘concerned’ that none of the £200m is coming into general practice and that the pressures are ‘not just in winter but all throughout the year’.
He said: ‘The whole thing is a recipe for disaster, because general practice desperately needs funding now, not in the future.
‘The funding that’s being syphoned off to the PCNs and other places needs to come into general practice. That is where the core work of the NHS is done – in general practice – nowhere else.’
The BMA, in response to the funding announcement, said the health secretary needs to ‘re-open talks with doctors and come to the table with a credible offer’ if he wants to ease winter pressures.
The union’s council chair Professor Philip Banfield said: ‘How can Steve Barclay claim to be shoring up the NHS for winter while at the same time refusing to engage with the doctors he needs to deliver that care?
‘The Government would do well to remember that our NHS treats patients all year round and winter funding is only one part of a much bigger picture. It’s been 135 and 171 days since Mr Barclay met with junior doctors and consultants, respectively.’
Health secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I know winter brings immense challenges for the NHS which is why we are working with health leaders to make sure we are prepared earlier.
‘We are working closely with trusts to see how we can continue to use technology and new ways of working to strengthen health and social services, alongside the thousands of new hospital beds and hundreds of new ambulances we are already providing.’
The DHSC has also committed to a £40m investment in social care capacity in order to ‘strengthen admission avoidance services and boost discharge rates’.