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GPs say winter cash is ‘short termist’

Leading GPs have responded to a surprise £100m winter cash injection for CCGs by saying the funding could have been better used if included in budgets at the start of the year.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley announced the  extra funding – the first direct payment to CCGs – last week as a way for prospective CCGs to pay for local frontline care for their patients during the winter months.

PCTs will authorise how GPs spend the money and CCGs will have only have until mid-February to secure the cash, with any unused funding returned to the DH ‘to spend on patient care elsewhere in the NHS.’

A Department of Health statement said CCGs could use the funding to:
•    provide more effective cover for urgent care services
•    improve out of hours services for patients
•    improve local arrangements with nursing homes
•    extend GP practice opening times, or
•    commission any service which supports patients in the community and in their homes to help avoid unnecessary visits to hospital.

In the first half of 2011-12 PCTs delegated around £29 billion of funds to CCGs. But the DH said this week’s announcement marks the first time CCGs have been directly handed funding to spend on patient services.

Dr David Jenner, NHS Alliance lead on GMS/PMS said he welcomed the cash injection but added ‘It´s not the best way to plan services to have pots of money suddenly released in this way.

‘In terms of the spirit of the health Bill my feeling is that probably better decisions can be made if you know you´re going to have the money in advance. Then we could make much better use of it.’

Dr Jenner said that the February deadline for applying for the money was ‘extremely tight’ but added: ‘This is a genuine attempt to address winter pressure and we must welcome it.’

GPC member Dr Paul Cundy agreed the move smacked of ‘short termism’ and said the money was simply there to fill gaps appearing in services: ‘This is indicative of the mad way in which the NHS is managed. No business would run on an annual budget – they would run on a three to five year cycle. If it´s not spent it will be taken away from our budgets next year. This way, you get people desperately trying to find things to spend it on.’

Dr Shane Gordon, chief executive of North East Essex CCG said: ‘With a population of 58 million it will amount to just under £2 per head and I´d see it going on things like extra capacity for elective work.

‘There are going to be reasonably tight criteria about what you can spend this on. It´s mainly to make sure that winter pressures don´t result in slippage.”

He said he did not subscribe to a ‘cynical’ view that the cash was a backdoor way to bail out struggling PCTs: ‘At the macro level, with wide variations in demand, there is a need for some smoothing. But I recall last year a very similar thing for PCTs and we´re in a very different situation now.’