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Funding axed for new surgeries

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: GPs working in crumbling surgeries will have to make do with refurbishments rather than new buildings after the body representing funding organisations said they would be halting the flow of cash.

The LIFT Council, which represents companies under the Government's flagship public-private initiative to redevelop GP premises, said money for new buildings would be cut back as part of a ‘refocusing' of its strategy.

The cost-cutting move comes as figures obtained by Pulse show investment in LIFT is set to plummet this year, with just £103m spent in the first half of 2010/11, compared with £284m last year.

David Pokora, executive director of the LIFT Council, told Pulse there would need to be a ‘radical rethink' in how money was allocated in light of the financial crisis, and that the council would be focusing on improving existing premises, rather than building new ones.

Mr Pokora said: ‘The lack of finances is the background to everything. There's got to be a radical re-assessment of how much money this nation has on its credit card. There will be a changing focus. Instead of being new-project focused, the strategy will be to drive better value out of existing projects. It now needs a period of rationalisation.'

Mr Pokora also warned investment in GP premises would be put on hold while all parties analysed the impact of the NHS white paper, insisting: ‘It's inevitable there will be a hiatus.'

His comments follow a Pulse investigation earlier this year finding the previous government's much-heralded programme of investment in GP premises had almost no impact on surgery buildings, with as many as one in seven surgeries ‘below minimum standard'.

A total of £2.29bn has been invested in LIFT since its launch in 2003, but spend in recent years has fallen significantly from the high points of 2004/05 (£556m), 2005/06 (£362m) and 2006/07 (£390m).

A LIFT Council spokesperson said the shift in emphasis was ‘entirely in line with the NHS white paper', and said there was less pressing need for new premises now that standards had been improved.

But Dr Clarissa Fabre, a GP in Buxted, East Sussex, and a member of the GPC's practice finance subcommittee, who is struggling to secure PCT funding to move into new premises, described the dearth of investment as ‘appalling'.

She said: ‘We've been short of premises money for years. We're getting to a crisis point.'

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, said new projects were essential to fulfilling the ambitions in the white paper: ‘If we are going to deliver more and more services to patients, we can't do it without investing in premises.'

Dr Clarissa Fabre More on improving your premises

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