Exclusive NHS England has instructed hospital trusts not to pay GPs more than £80 per hour to staff its £100m GP-in-A&E scheme.
NHS England said the cap was put in place to align with the ‘indicative rate’ for GP locums that was set last year, but GP leaders warned it would discourage experienced GPs from taking on the roles.
The news comes as NHS England announced a further 27 hospital trusts to receive a share of the Treasury-allocated £100m funding last week, having said it expects all 139 trusts to have set up GP streaming by next winter.
The news of the cap was unveiled via a Pulse investigation into the planning process at the first 70 trusts to be allocated funding.
Pulse asked how much they planned to pay GPs, what kind of cover was needed and how they expected to recruit GPs, finding that a majority were at the very early stages of planning despite the time limit. However, some trusts told Pulse that the pay rate was already determined in NHS England guidance at £80.01 per hour.
Asked by Pulse, the Department of Health confirmed that this was the case, and added that hospitals had to adhere to the cap in order to receive a share of the Government’s overall funding for the scheme.
A DH spokesperson said: ‘NHS England’s advice to trusts was that, in defining the service, the rates of pay for GPs should be no higher than the NHSE guidance of £80.01 per hour.’
But this comes as for GP practices to date, the £80 top rate is merely ‘indicative’, meaning they can pay above this but must report it to NHS England.
Dr John Ashcroft, executive officer at Derby and Derbyshire LMC, warned that the cap would mean only newly qualified, inexperienced GPs would go for the roles, hampering the Government’s hopes they would reduce pressure elsewhere in the urgent care system.
He said: ‘They’ll go native. They’ll revert to being casualty officers rather than acting as GPs because they haven’t had enough time and experience in general practice.’
In Derbyshire, most locums cost at least £80 per hour, with more experienced locums costing closer to £100 per hour, Dr Ashcroft added.
The investigation also revealed some detail about the level of cover needed. Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust has said ‘one or two’ GPs will be available in the A&E from 8am to 11pm daily. East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust has said each of its two sites will include GP cover from 10am to 10pm.
GP leaders have said the plan could make the situation in general practice worse and waste money.
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said: ‘At a time when practices are closing because they can’t recruit GPs, the Department of Health should be prioritising any available investment in to general practice, not establishing a scheme that attracts more patients towards A&E with the encouragement of being able to see a GP there.
‘This has the potential to make the situation worse not better, and waste £100m in the process.’
Pulse previously reported that it would require up to 420 extra GPs to implement.
When asked how it plans to recruit GPs, a spokesperson at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust said they were unconcerned about recruitment as ‘GPs tell us they like working in A&E, and enjoy the teamwork and the type of medicine they can practise there’.