Rejoice! NHS England is ahead of its target in ploughing money into general practice, it claims. It says it has increased investment by £580m – representing a 3.9% boost above inflation.
The BMA challenges the figures, saying that this includes elements such as drug reimbursements and GPs in A&E. But, despite this, it does acknowledge that there has been a funding boost.
Which is great. But there are obvious caveats. First, and obviously, it is not enough. There are fewer GPs in the system, workload isn’t decreasing, waiting times are increasing. Until these are reversed, then the NHS and the Government cannot say their funding boosts are adequate.
But, in fairness to NHS England, they are constrained by what they are given by the Department of Health and Social Care and the Treasury.
The NHS should bite the bullet and significantly increase core funding
However, there is another problem with the funding – how it is given to practices. The funding listed by NHS England includes GP Forward View programmes, the Estates and Technology Fund, seven-day access schemes, transformation funds, schemes to expand the GP workforce, etc.
This bitty approach to funding is unhelpful. First, it prioritises those practices that are in a position to deliver on these schemes – typically, the larger practices beloved by NHS England, who generally are in a better financial position than smaller ones.
Secondly, and more importantly, it doesn’t get to the root cause of the problems in general practice. As one GP put it, the current funding system is like ‘trying to paint a house armed only with multiple tiny pots of paint’. At the same time, this leads to only short-term planning, with practices unsure over whether these various funding pots will be withdrawn the following year.
Instead of funding these bitty schemes, the NHS should bite the bullet and significantly increase core funding. It is the only way to get us out of this crisis. I understand it is politically tough, and that the Government would be terrified of headlines about lining GPs’ pockets, but they must know this is the only way to improve services for patients. Interestingly, NHS England’s new director of primary care seems to understand this. Let’s hope she can make the case to the holders of the purse strings.
Jaimie Kaffash is editor of Pulse. Follow him on Twitter @jkaffash or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org