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GP seven-day access pilots will be offered £6 per head to continue

NHS England is in talks around extending its flagship seven-day GP access scheme with funding worth £6 per head of population to existing projects, which will be potentially worth more than £100m overall, Pulse has learned.

It has indicated that the pilot projects, run by CCGs and federations among other groups, will have to provide access during set hours on evenings and weekends in order to access the further funding,

To date, NHS England has spent at least £175m on two waves of pilots since 2014, and Pulse revealed earlier this year that it continued to prop up some which had run out of money.

But this extra funding comes despite the Government claiming that seven-day GP access will be self-funding due to savings made from secondary care.

It follows a series of evaluations that have shown disappointing take-up at weekends, and especially Sundays.

An NHS England briefing document, seen by Pulse, said: ‘For 2016/17, NHS England has prioritised funding secured through the spending review to support continuation of current GP Access Fund schemes, to continue to operate evenings and weekends and to support the overall vision set out in the General Practice Forward View.

‘In order to facilitate this for 16/17 each GPAF scheme will be offered £6 per head from the GP Access Fund, for that part of the population where the schemes are providing evening and weekend appointments.’

The document also says there are a ‘proposed set of standardised core requirements’ that need to be met, which Pulse understands includes routine seven-day GP appointments.

NHS England has said that the current two pilot cohorts of its GP Access Fund – previously named the PM’s Challenge Fund, having been announced by former prime minister David Cameron – includes 57 areas and covers 18 million patients, or a third of England’s population.

It has refused to confirm the £6 per head of population figure, but if this is accurate, it would mean a total of £108m to be spent in 2016/17.

There are also indications that the Government is looking to increase GP access over evenings and weekends

Public board papers from NHS Oxfordshire CCG, which had focused its pilot on urgent rather than routine care, said: ‘All existing neighbourhood access hubs will need to adapt to meet the new draft national criteria… These criteria will require more provision in the evenings and at weekends than currently provided.’

It comes as the GP Forward View, published by NHS England in April, pledged £500m extra towards the rollout of seven-day GP access – a Conservative Party election pledge.

Pilot areas responding to a Pulse media enquiry about current and future seven-day access included the ‘I heart Barnsley’ wave two Access Fund pilot, which said it will receive £1.5m further funding this year, on top of last year’s £2.5m initial allocation, which a spokesperson said was based on ‘£6 per head of population’..’

A spokesperson for NHS England said: ‘There is a national evaluation of both wave one and wave two of the GP Access Fund. This information will be available for wave one in August and for wave two in the autumn, and will be located on the NHS England website.

‘NHS England is in discussions with the Government about the requirements for 2016/17 and will be discussing these with current GP Access schemes shortly.’

The House of Commons health committee, chaired by former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, has questioned how the Government intends to pay for seven-day routine GP services, warning that it will lead to other NHS cuts.

In a report quoting preivous Pulse investigations into the pilot schemes, the influential commitee of MPs has also recommended further evaluation before committing more funding.