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Government doubles GP winter indemnity funding to £10m

NHS England will pay several million more into the scheme that sees additional GP indemnity costs relating to out of hours covered through winter.

This winter’s scheme, due to launch next month, will see funding doubled to £10m, having stood at £5m last year.

NHS England said this comes after last year’s scheme secured 80,000 extra sessions in GP out of hours.

Like last year, the scheme developed with the medical defence organisations will see the additional indemnity premium for GPs who wish to work extra out-of-hours sessions covered by NHS England.

It will run from 1 October 2017 until after the Easter weekend, which next year ends on 2 April.

NHS England said that GPs who want to take part should agree a ‘likely number’ of sessions with the out-of-hours provider, and ‘once confirmed, should ‘approach their MDOs to access a bespoke package, funded by NHS England, which would give the doctor cover for their additional commitment to the service’.

NHS England primary care director Dr Arvind Madan said: ‘NHS England is taking practical advice to ensure rising indemnity costs don’t stand in the way of GPs being able to support their patients over winter, both during working hours and at evenings and weekends.’

According to an NHS England board paper, the indemnity scheme is one of a number of ways NHS England is preparing to offset winter pressures on health services.

It said this also includes availability of routine general practice during extended hours, which is why regional areas will have to report on ‘general practice readiness’ to provide ‘additional evening and weekend GP appointments, supported by advertising/signposting, and wherever possible including booking through NHS 111’.

The paper said: ‘Routine availability of general practice and community pharmacy services make a significant contribution to the management of local winter and urgent care demands but experience pressure like other parts of the system.

‘For this reason, regional assessments of plans include a component on general practice readiness, specifically around use of “extended access capacity”.’

As it stands, the board paper says this will be available in ‘twice as many’ CCGs as last winter, including across the whole of London. In all, it says ‘50% of the population’ will have access to routine evening and weekend GP appointments this winter.

It comes as Pulse has already reported that NHS England would repeat the winter indemnity scheme in the absence of a longer-term solution to the problem of high GP indemnity costs, which was supposed to be in place by now.

It also comes as experts have warned UK GPs to ‘brace themselves’ for a ‘gruelling’ flu season, amid pressures on the NHS and aggressive flu strains experienced in the southern hemisphere.

BMA GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the increase to funding was ‘recognition of the pressures that the services are going to be under’ as well as ‘the need to support GPs who work in out of hours.

He said: ‘It is something that we have been pushing for for some time and we have been concerned about the delay to the announcement.

‘But nevertheless it will give some short term confidence for GPs working in out-of-hours settings.’

But he added that what GPs need is ‘a long-term solution to the indemnity crisis’, which the GPC is ‘continuing to push [the Department of Health] on’.

Dr Madan said: ‘Further work is underway to produce a long term answer to the issue of indemnity costs.’

Note: This article was updated at 12.29 on 28 September 2017 after NHS England advised its board papers had mistakenly said the scheme’s cost was £8m when it was actually £10m.