GP leaders said the 2.8% real-terms drop over the three-year period meant primary care was fast becoming unsustainable as work transfers into the community but hospitals continue to ‘suck up resources’.
A Nuffield Trust report, The anatomy of health spending 2011/12, found that in 2011/12 alone, spending on GP services dropped 1.2% in real terms, while hospital spending rose by 1.2%.
PCT spending on general practice dropped in both 2010/11 and 2011/12, while it rose for community health services, hospital services and mental healthcare.
The report warned: ‘The more rapid growth in hospital spending relative to primary care raises questions about whether the NHS has the right balance of services for the future.’
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey warned: ‘This is what we’ve been warning about in recent years. The reality is there continues to be a sucking-up of resources into secondary care, at a time when more and more is expected of primary care.’
He warned: CCGs need to tackle this – they have to turn the tide. If they don’t, the NHS will become unsustainable.
‘If you don’t invest in practices properly - they are already workload saturated now - they can’t do more, and the NHS will suffer as a result.’
Primary care spending as a proportion of overall PCT spending fell from 26% to 24% from 2003/4 to 2011/12, the report shows.
But GP funding has flatlined since the 2004 GP contract deal while investment in pharmacy and dentistry services have risen. The report said: ‘Despite the overall increase in spending on health since 2003/04, spending on GP services has been static since 2005.’
Despite their own funding being cut, GPs have managed to stabilise the cost of prescribing by general practice.
‘Spending on prescribing by general practice has changed little since 2003/04, increasing by 3.8 per cent or £301 million between 2003/04 and 2011/12,’ the report said. ‘In the past, the cost of prescriptions has tended to increase at a faster rate than overall health care spending; however, this trend has now reversed.’