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Budget for seven-day GP access doubled to £750m, announces Treasury

The budget for seven-day routine GP access has almost doubled in a year, with the Treasury to announce tomorrow that it has allocated £750m to rollout the ambitious election pledge.

The cost of the scheme will be up 90% on the £400m originally announced in 2014, but Pulse has learnt that this funding is likely to be recycled from other funding promised for general practice in order to prop up the scheme.

The Treasury was unable to clarify to Pulse whether this £750m includes new funding, but the GPC has said that it ‘suspects’ this is a rebadging of old money, potentially the £1bn ’infrastructure fund’ announced earlier this year to improve GP premises.

The announcement of the increase in funding for seven-day access comes as a Pulse investigation reveals that only two of the 19 CCGs in the first wave of the seven-day ‘Challenge Fund’ pilots have committed to continue fully funding the schemes long-term.

Two of the wave one areas have completely scrapped seven-day working, and 13 CCGs are still reviewing their options, the Pulse investigation has found.

An evaluation of the wave one Challenge Fund schemes in October found they were associated with a £3.2m estimated saving – due to a reduction in minor self-presenting A&E attendances – but this was dwarfed by the schemes £50m initial funding.

It also suggested that Sunday GP appointments should be reconsidered due to ‘low utilisation’.

Ahead of chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review announcement tomorrow, the Treasury has announced that £3.8bn funding would be pumped into the NHS next year, as part of plans to increase the annual budget of the NHS by £10bn by 2020.

It also released a statement saying: ’By 2020, everyone will be able to access GP services in the evenings and at weekends. This will mean 5,000 extra doctors working in general practice, with £750 million of investment, the Chancellor will announce.’

However, this stands in marked contract to the £400m ‘set up costs’ spread over the five years from 2015-2020 originally quoted by Prime Minister David Cameron and is less than the £1bn a year that the RCGP has said seven-day GP routine access could cost.

Deputy GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ’There is no point funding something that patients don’t want and it having an impact on other services. What you need to do is fund core services and urgent care services.

’Unless you’ve got recurrent funding to sustain these developments then it is difficult to see how it doesn’t impact on the current service. But I suspect that £750m is already announced and rebadged money. It has been announced in various ways – as the access money and the premises money before that.’

The original primary care ’Infrastructure Fund’ was announced earlier this year, but was recently rebranded as the GP Transformation Fund and has already been used to prop up seven-day access. Pulse learned in July that £25m of the £100m funding for the second wave of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund pilot rolled out this year stemmed from the fund.

In addition, £10m has been siphoned off to support struggling GP practices to stay open, and the GPC has warned of a significant underspend on the money that NHS England already claimed was handed to GP practices. 

Meanwhile, although NHS England had claimed that ‘over 1,000 practices’ had been awarded a share of a first £190m tranche, Pulse revealed that practices have actually had millions of funding revoked.