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At-risk GP practices invited to bid for Welsh Government support

Struggling GP practices are now able to apply for support from the Welsh Government as it launched the scheme agreed in contract negotiations.

Under the scheme, practices which consider themselves vulnerable to closure or being forced to significantly cut back on patient services within the next 12 months are welcome to apply to its local health board, the Welsh Government and the GPC wrote in a joint letter sent to practices yesterday.

Practices hoping for support will be referred to a ‘local assessment panel’, formed of the health board medical director and representatives from the LMC and community health council. The panel will base its assessment on a ‘risk matrix’ formula, also included in the letter to practices, including detailed analysis of the practice’s demographics, premises, income streams, staffing – including age profile and vacancies – as well as clinical governance.

But practices applying for the scheme should not expect financial support in the first instance, said the Welsh GPC.

Dr Peter Horvath-Howard, who has led the work for the GPC, said the support ‘may well not be financial’ but would likely be ‘practical measures [which] may prevent a practice having to close or significantly reduce their services’. He said this could include help with staffing, back office functions, training and support from other practices within the clusters Welsh GP practices work within locally since last year.

He said the scheme ‘in no way represents an answer to the many problems we have as GPs in Wales’ but added: ‘GPC Wales hopes that with this we can identify at least some of the practices that need health board support to urgently prevent closure’.

The letter to practices said: ‘Any practice which considers itself vulnerable to risk of closure within 12 months and/or a reduction in the range of service provision are advised to contact their health board to discuss in the first instance with a view to making an application under the assessment framework. The local assessment panel will aim to make a decision within six weeks of receipt of the completed application for assessment.’

GPC Wales negotiated for the support scheme in the 2015/16 contract negotiations but GPC Wales chair Dr Charlotte Jones previously explained this did not mean there was a dedicated ‘emergency fund’ being made available, but would come out of primary care investment announced previously.

The Welsh Government said this included the £34m it had earmarked for recruitment.

A spokesperson said: ‘In June, we invested £34m to develop primary care services across Wales in 2015/16, in addition to £6m allocated directly to primary care clusters in Wales – groups of GP practices and other primary care professionals responsible for planning local health needs – in January.

‘If practices need financial support as part of the sustainability assessment framework, health boards will consider this from their share of this investment in primary care.’