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Payment support services subject to £40m budget cuts

The budget for the services that support payments to GPs and manage the primary care providers lists has been slashed by almost £40m, leaked NHS England documents have revealed.

NHS England workforce briefings from 6 September and 5 July reveal that NHS England has been asked to reduce the budget for Primary Care Support services - which covers payment processing, performers list applications and contract management, national patient registration and medical records management - from an approximate current spend of £98m to £60m by April 2014.

However, NHS England insisted that no decisions about budgets cuts had been taken and said ‘no target has been set’, but declined to explain the precise figures outlined in the briefing.

This comes after Pulse reported on a string of issues with GPs receiving their due payments, leaving them with huge cashflow problems and GP leaders have warned that this further cut would ‘only make matters worse’.

The 5 July briefing said: ‘PCS services currently has an annual budget of approximately £98m and services are provided by approximately 1,800 staff working as part of various Area Teams, based in over 30 locations across England.’

‘The Area Teams that are currently providing PCS services have a wide variation of costs and some degree of variation in the range of services that they are currently delivering.’

‘NHS England has been tasked to reduce the PCS services budget and running costs to £60m, a reduction of £40m. In the first instance, as described below, NHS staff will be seeing how PCS can be delivered within this new cost envelope.’

However, it added that the process would likely see further cost cutting in the future, with part of the brief for the redesign of the service to ‘take into account future financial constraints where further efficiency savings will be required in line with the rest of the NHS’.

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said he was unaware of the figures described in the briefing papers, warning that it would ‘only make matters worse’ to cut the capacity of the service at a time when it is ‘already failing’.

He said: ‘We are certainly aware of the pressure within NHS England to make further savings. This could have the biggest impact on shared services. We are already receiving large numbers of reports about delays in payments to practices, and to suggest cutting the capacity of a service that is already failing will just make matters worse, not better.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘We have not made any secret of fact that we need to reduce these costs on behalf of the public - as have all parts of the NHS. There is broad consensus that there are opportunities to do this and to protect the frontline.NHS England is looking to offer GPs a range of consistent, high quality FHS support. Currently, this support varies greatly from one part of the country to the next.

‘No decisions have been taken and no target has been set. This is because we are anxious to ensure that quality of the service is protected so we need to proceed with great care. We are absolutely committed to keeping all parties involved at all stages.’