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GP practices closing while waiting on support promised by Jeremy Hunt

Exclusive GP practices at the brink of closure are being denied millions of pounds of funding promised to them by health secretary Jeremy Hunt, Pulse has learned.

Pulse has found that barely any of the £10m ‘vulnerable practices fund’ announced by Mr Hunt as part of his ‘new deal’ for general practice has actually made it to the practices most in need, 14 months after it was first announced.

Meanwhile, practices are continuing to close due to funding problems and struggles to recruit GPs.

GP leaders said that the fund has been ‘too complex’ and ‘too cumbersome’ to achieve its aim of support practices most in need.

NHS England promised the £10m fund – announced in June 2015 – would ‘provide support to practices under pressure, ensuring patients have continued access to high-quality care’.

It gave funding to its local area teams to identify vulnerable practices and then use the funding to support them

At the start of this year, NHS England regions identified 800-plus practices that they considered to be vulnerable.

But the Pulse investigation found that, in most cases, NHS managers haven’t even decided which practices will receive the funding, and there is no indication when practices will receive tangible support.

Pulse has contacted dozens of LMCs, every NHS England region and vulnerable practices themselves, and found:

  • In Wolverhampton, the Raynor Road Medical Centre was closed down by the CQC while it was waiting for support to be provided;
  • In neighbouring Walsall, five of the town’s practices were identified as vulnerable and promised up to £15,000 in support, but nothing has materialised – despite the practices having to stump up £1,450 beforehand to be ‘diagnosed’ as vulnerable;
  • In London, practices that have been identified by NHS England and CCGs have not yet been contacted;
  • Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland LMC says £8,000 for practices to ‘buy in expertise’, and £2,000 for ‘diagnostic’ support, are available but only two practices have so far received any funding;
  • Kent LMC says a substantial number of practices has been identified, but knows of none that has actually had funding. Some have been receiving support from an RCGP scheme to help practices in CQC special measures.

At the same time, Pulse has been reporting – through its Stop Practice Closures campaign – on numerous practices having to close, due to funding and recruitment problems.

For example, in the past few months alone:

Dr Brian Balmer – a GPC negotiator until last August – said that area teams have been unsure about how to implement the scheme: ‘They know that this was too complex, too cumbersome.’

He added: ‘NHS England has completely forgotten how to give the money to the right people and get on with it.

‘I do know NHS England were disappointed in the uptake and the amount of spend. They’ve completely forgotten that nimble, local action is what gets stuff done in the health service.’

An NHS England spokesperson said: ‘NHS England is working through its local teams to ensure the funding available through the vulnerable practice fund is fully committed to named individual practices by the end of October.’