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Treasury sets aside £3 per patient for GP Covid support fund

Exclusive The Treasury has set aside an average of £3 per patient to reimburse GP practices for expenses incurred for three months during the coronavirus pandemic, Pulse has learned.

A total of £197.5 million has been budgeted by ministers for Covid-related costs between 23 March and 30 June 2020, the Treasury revealed to Pulse following a Freedom of Information request.

NHS England will provide ‘additional funding’ on top of this for the month of July, said the Treasury in its FOI response.

The money is attached to the General Practice Covid Support Fund, which can be used for ‘additional’ costs stemming from activities such as delivering care home services, opening over bank holiday and providing cover for staff off sick or shielding, but does not apply to PPE.

GPs have said the funding will cover expenses incurred by some practices – such as those with modern buildings that will not have spent huge sums on premises upgrades – but for many others ‘it isn’t going to be enough’.

They warned that the Treasury’s provision of a ‘limited’ budget may mean that some practices lose out on funding, despite NHS England’s repeated assurances that any ’additional costs’ would be reimbursed.

An NHS England spokesperson said the NHS will ‘fully pass through to practices the funding the Government has agreed to make available to them to meet their reasonable additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic’.

North Staffs LMC secretary and BMA GP Committee policy lead on NHS England Dr Chandra Kanneganti told Pulse that he is concerned that a limit has been set.

He said his own practice has employed extra staff to conduct blood tests that would normally take place in outpatient appointments because the local hospital is taking two to three weeks to provide tests that would usually be done the next day.

He said: ‘Locally we did ask [commissioners about payment] saying that we’re doing all these blood tests and phlebotomy and all these things which are not even commissioned. They said “you can apply to the Covid funding and see what happens”.

‘But if there’s only limited money, we will not be paid for those extra things that we’ve been doing. That is a real concern.’

He noted hospitals had their debts ‘written off’ at the start of the pandemic and are receiving full funding even though carrying out much-reduced work – which in some cases is leading to GPs filling the gaps.

He added; ‘All this extra capacity we’re doing because the hospitals are not doing what they’re contracted for should be covered. They need to ask themselves, is £3 per head enough for that?’

A spokesperson for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs said: ‘The Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent CCGs have quantified the additional work being undertaken in primary care and developed a business case to obtain funding to cover phlebotomy costs. Practices in North Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent have been contacted to be told funding is now available for this.’

Dr Grant Ingrams, a GP in Leicestershire, told Pulse that while the money might ‘just about’ cover his own practice’s expenses, it is unlikely to be enough for others.

He said: ‘I don’t think we’ve had to do as many physical changes to the building, being a relatively new building, compared to many other places which will have had an awful lot more changes made.’

He added: ‘Having looked at the figures for our [practice], our expenses have been well below average [for the area] and that figure I think will just about cover us. Unless for some reason Leicester is out of line with the rest of the country, I suspect it isn’t going to be enough.’

Dr Ingrams added that there will be many more ‘unknown’ expenses in the next few months, including for flu delivery.

He said: ‘The budget will have to expand to meet all the expenses – the known expenses but also the unknown unknowns. We can’t predict what’s going to happen and what the extra costs are going to be.’

Dr Gaurav Gupta, Kent LMC chair and BMA GP Committee UK policy lead for premises and finance, told Pulse that practices should not be left ‘bearing the costs of the Covid pandemic themselves’ when they were incurred ‘in good faith’ to support their patients.

He said: ‘This is something that the Chancellor promised in Parliament – that whatever the NHS needs, the NHS will get – so we would want all the costs that practices have incurred in dealing with the Covid pandemic to be reimbursed.’

He added: ‘We don’t want practices to have to start thinking about what they should and shouldn’t do, they should be doing the right thing and the Government should be supporting [them] by making sure that they are reimbursed for any costs that they incur for Covid.’

A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘Guidance published last week sets out exactly how GP practices can claim reimbursement for additional Covid-19 related costs. It sets out how the NHS will fully pass through to practices the funding the Government has agreed to make available to them to meet their reasonable additional costs incurred as a result of the pandemic.’

Pulse revealed in April that GP practices in Kent and other areas were given a cash boost worth £1 per patient by their CCGs amid concerns over cash flow while awaiting the promised Covid funding.

And in June, practices in Kent had their enhanced services funding protected by commissioners until October in a bid to prevent coronavirus from ‘destabilising’ them. 

Meanwhile, Pulse revealed that an out-of-hours provider has spent around £100,000 on PPE while awaiting the reimbursement promised by NHS England.

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