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One-fifth of practices’ premises projects ‘could collapse’

Around one in five GP premises improvement projects approved through a £1bn Government fund could collapse because the NHS has withdrawn funding, the BMA has claimed.

A survey of 207 projects approved to receive funding from the first tranche of the £1bn ’Primary Care Infrastructure  Fund’ – announced by chancellor George Osborne last year and recently rebadged as the ‘Transformation Fund’ – found that 83% of schemes are being delayed beyond March 2015. 

NHS England local area teams have withdrawn funding for 22% of those delayed schemes, the BMA found.

Pulse first reported that practices were having funding withheld last month, but NHS England claimed the funding was being ‘deferred’.

GPC has hit out at the insecurity of funding, which would prevent patients benefitting from much-needed improvements, adding that GPs who heard the Government ‘fanfare’ around the fund are now doubting it will materialise.

The £1bn fund was announced by Mr Osborne in his Autumn Statement last year, to be split over four years.

In March, NHS England announced 1,000 practices had had their plans for premises improvements approved for funding in 2015/16, prioritising outstanding bids that could be accomplished quickly and those that would support seven-day working and care of the elderly.

But in October NHS England announced an overhaul of the funding arrangements for next year, which would extend the time practices have to complete their projects, but will also require new and deferred bids to be redrawn to meet local CCG priorities.

And the BMA survey has revealed that delays are affecting practices already, and there are concerns that they may not get the long-term funding promised.

Of the 207 bids approved in principle who responded to the survey:

  • 18% have been told by their area teams that the funding will be withdrawn due to delays.
  • 19% said their scheme had been delayed partly because of a refusal of NHS England to meet recurrent costs.
  • 28% said their scheme had been delayed partly due to a lack of expertise within NHS England.

GPC executive committee member Dr Brian Balmer said the results ‘paint a depressing picture of a faltering programme of investment’ that has failed to deliver on promises of improvement, and is holding GPs back from offering more appointments and services.

He added: ‘Most worrying is that one in five are being refused support from NHS England and CCGs for the recurring costs of maintaining new facilities. This could mean that these projects cannot be completed and the bids could simply collapse. That would leave patients with no hope of getting the improved care they deserve.

‘Already some bids have been told by local area teams that they may not be able to support their projects financially.

‘The Government announced the extra investment in GP facilities with a lot of fanfare, but on the ground many GPs are beginning to doubt these supposed improvements will ever be delivered. Ministers have to get a grip on the project and deliver what they have promised, otherwise patient care will continue to suffer.’

An NHS England spokesperson said that they were committed to supporting bids that would over-run ‘subject to approval’, saying: ’The Primary Care Transformation Fund is a major four-year investment, not a quick fix and this small survey does not represent the full picture. The ambition and range of projects we have seen means some projects may take longer than expected but we are committed to supporting these projects next year, subject to approval.

’We are working hard to ensure that this funding delivers improved services for patients, not just now, but well into the future.’