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Patient groups mull ‘class action’ legal challenge over PMS funding cuts

Patients of a GP practice in Norfolk are considering joining a ‘class action’ legal challenge against NHS England over PMS funding cuts.

Vida Healthcare, a GP partnership that runs six surgeries in Lynn, Downham, Dersingham and Hunstanton with a combined 37,000 patients, has been told it will lose at least £250,000 in funding each year over the next four years following its PMS review.

An initial appeal against the decision was refused by NHS England, but partner Dr Gareth Allen told Pulse a second appeal will now be reviewed by the health secretary.

But he said there was a separate legal challenge being brought about by the four patient groups linked to the practice, who are in talks with other patients bringing legal challenges against PMS cuts on the basis that commissioners failed to consult them before deciding to reduce funding.

Dr Allen said: ’We are going for a second appeal which I am told is going to go to the secretary of state. But we felt we needed to let our patient groups know what was happening, because they had not been consulted, and they decided to challenge it as well. They are writing to MPs, going to the papers.’

Patient group representatives told Lynn News, which reported the story last week, that they would try lobbying MPs and senior NHS England bosses before making a final decision whether to take part in legal action brought by a patient of the Slaithwaite Surgery in Huddersfield last November, which was exclusively revealed by Pulse.

Dr Allen said: ’They have been in contact and discussed their patient’s legal challenge through the High Court because of the lack of consultation. So I think the PPGs are thinking about getting involved in that class action, but that is their initiative, not mine.’

Dr Allen also said the practice had not been given reasons why the funding was cut, just that it was ‘part of the review’ but that a couple of the surgeries stood to lose deprivation payments.

He said that if the cuts went ahead, the practice would have to stop providing additional services for which it was not funded, such as for example insulin initiation and drug dependency clinics.

He said there were no definite answers yet as to what services may be reduced, but added: ’There is no question that we can’t go on providing services that we are not funded for.’

In a letter to NHS England, the patient groups said: ’We believe that there is a statutory duty on NHS England to consult publicly before cutting vital funding to patient services for 37,000 people. This has not happened. Because of NHSE’s failure to consult, we are now taking advice on pursuing this matter, with the intention of becoming party to an existing, patient-led legal challenge in the High Court against NHS England.’

Ruth Derrett, locality director for NHS England (East) said: ‘We can confirm that Vida Healthcare has formally appealed against the results of the PMS review and this appeal will now be reviewed by the Family Health Services Appeal Unit (FHSAU) which is tasked with the prompt and fair resolution of appeals between NHS England and primary care contractors. As this is part of a legal process it would not be appropriate for us to comment further.’

A spokesperson for NHS West Norfolk CCG said: ’Working in partnership, NHS England, NHS West Norfolk CCG and the Norfolk and Waveney LMC have met with Vida Healthcare to discuss the PMS review, a national process all PMS practices have had to undertake, with discussions focused on the continued delivery of high quality patient-centred services.

’As per national guidance, the funding released from the PMS review process will be reinvested locally to support all GP practices within the CCG area.’

NHS England announced a review of the ‘premium’ funding received by PMS practices that were not linked to specific services in 2013, in a bid to save £260m, which it said was set to be ‘redeployed’ across all GP practices in the area. Having got under way in 2014, these reviews are all due to be completed by next month.