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GP practices set for £1m emergency assistance fund from NHS board

Exclusive An NHS board is considering plans to allocate a £1m ‘emergency assistance’ fund for GP practices after it emerged one in six local practices had closed its list.

A committee of the NHS Lothian board reported that 20 out of 127 practices had reported closed lists, and pushed for the board to allocate the funding to pay for new GPs, help retain current GPs and upgrade services.

NHS Lothian told Pulse that it was ‘finalising the details’ of an emergency package for practices.

It comes as Pulse is running its Stop Practice Closures campaign calling for emergency funding for practices who are most in need.

The NHS Lothian potential funding follows lobbying by a group of health professionals in the area, the Edinburgh Community Health Partnership (CHP), who called for the board to provide the money to help several practices who do not have enough GPs to meet patient demand.

A report by the CHP sub-committee contained in NHS Lothian board papers for a meeting last week, ‘not[ed] the need for an additional £1 million funding for primary care’.

It added: ‘Work is underway to stabilise a number of practices due to issues around GP recruitment, locum availability, an ageing workforce and difficulty in attracting GP partnerships. District nursing and health visiting are facing similar workforce issues and ongoing difficulties with IT performance are also having an impact.

‘It has been highlighted that the model of primary care has not changed for 20 years. We are currently in a very challenging position with 20 practices in Edinburgh reporting closed lists.’

The CHP said it has ‘extreme concern over a number of GP practices being unable to continue to provide services.

An NHS Lothian spokesperson said: ‘The allocation of funding is still at a very early stage and specific recipients and schemes have not yet been identified. Details are being finalised and are subject to discussion with partner organisations.’

NHS Lothian said it had to take over the running of two practices this year, but Lothian LMC chair Dr Catriona Morton said that this figure was likely to rise.  

One practice – Links Medical Centre in Edinburgh – has remained open only through apportioning 2,000 of its patients last spring to other practices, after it was unable to replace GPs who left.

Dr Morton explained: ‘One million pounds is a realistic amount for an emergency fund. We can’t afford to lose practices in Edinburgh. NHS Lothian has to support practices in major difficulties. Practices are operating in areas of expanding populations, and so capacity has reached saturation point. Well over 20 practices have restrictions about how many people they will register.’

In England, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced in his ‘new deal’ speech that struggling practices would receive £10m to support them, but it later emerged that this would only apply to practices put in special measures by the CQC.

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