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  • Extra £20m funding will go hand-in-hand with a new 10-year plan for the NHS

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PM at Conservative-Party-ConferenceNovember 5 2014

The British Medical Association has expressed its concerns over the long-term sustainability of the Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund.

Dr Richard Vautrey, Deputy Chair of the BMA's GP committee said: “The BMA remains concerned that the Prime Minister's Challenge Fund is an unsustainable programme that will provide support only to a limited number of practices for a short period of time.”

NHS England had earlier announced that GPs can now bid for a share of the £100 million being made available through the Fund to improve and extend patient access to GP services. Priority will be given to places where practices are opening for longer, such as 8-8 on weekdays and at weekends, said NHS England.

However, Dr Vautrey said: “The funding provided as part of this pilot is not, as NHS England have confirmed, going to be guaranteed year on year into the future.

“An analysis by the BMA of the funding required to sustain extended opening hours in six Wakefield practices taking part in the pilot has shown that if the Challenge Fund was rolled out across the country it would cost the NHS over £1 billion to sustain each year.

“Although some cash-strapped practices will be tempted into applying for this funding, it is difficult to see how the provision of longer opening hours is going to be sustainable once the pilot comes to an end. This runs the risk that GP practices will end up stretching already under pressure services even more thinly by shifting appointments from the day time to cover weekends and evenings.”

He called for a “long term plan to provide enough GPs, practice staff and resources to allow practices to offer these services” if opening hours are going to be extended across the country.

“At present, GP services are at breaking point from a combination of record patient demand, falling resources and an emerging shortage of GPs. It is vital policymakers act to solve this immediate crisis and ensure that any further expansion in services is properly funded."

Announcing that GPs could bid for the funding, NHS England’s Deputy Medical Director, Dr Mike Bewick had said that “people who struggle to find a GP appointment to fit in with family and work life can now make the most of new technologies.”

He said that the current 20 pilots have had a positive impact since starting in April, supported with sums ranging from £400k to £5m from a £50m fund. A variety of ideas are being tried, including 8am-8pm working, better use of telecare and health apps, access to appointments through e-mail and Skype, and greater flexibility with face-to-face access.

It was estimated that by the end of October more than 4 million patients would have been able to benefit, and by Christmas this will have reached more than 5 million.

One GP involved in the initial wave, Dr Chris Jones, from Church Street Surgery in Ossett, West Yorkshire, has led a bid for West Wakefield health and Wellbeing.

He encouraged other GPs to get involved in a bid, saying: “Patients at our surgeries are really benefiting from our extended hours service with urgent problems receiving a much faster response from a local GP with full access to their records in our modern local Hub premises.

“They will soon be able to choose to have a video appointment, have a consultation by email or access routine appointments after 6.30pm and at the weekend if they have difficulty attending during normal hours. We have really enjoyed being involved in this project because it has allowed us to test a number of ideas which will make life easier for our patients.”

Alongside the wave one pilots, NHS England has established an “associate network” to the Challenge Fund to link around 24 of the other innovative bids within their region and nationally to share learning.

Links:

BMA statement 

NHS England announcement

Prime Minister’s Challenge Fund 

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