Rural GPs to benefit from government policy review

Rural GP practices threatened by underfunding and MPIG cuts could benefit from a cross-government review of how policy affects rural communities, a campaign group has said.

Lake District: rural GPs could benefit from funding review (photo: Natural England/S Warner)
Lake District: rural GPs could benefit from funding review (photo: Natural England/S Warner)

The independent review of 'rural-proofing' policy will be conducted by crossbench peer Lord Cameron over the autumn.

Speaking ahead of the second annual conference of the Rural Health Network - set up to campaign for better services outside urban areas -  the group’s coordinator Nick Payne said the review would scrutinise the DH over how effective it is at taking account of rural areas’ specific needs.

Mr Payne said ministers often talk about being sympathetic to rural issues. But he said: ‘The reality is, it gets brushed aside in the rush to deal with things on a bigger scale, therefore the additional costs associated with providing services in rural areas are often underassessed.’

Mr Payne said methods used to measure health and calculate funding often favour high population areas and disadvantage rural communities with older populations and greater health needs.

‘The majority of investment goes, on a per capita basis, into London, south-east England and metropolitan areas, which means on a like-for-like basis rural areas don't get anything like the same health funding support, which rolls out into how GP practices are funded,' he said.

There were serious concerns, he added, that some rural GP practices could become unviable after MPIG funding is withdrawn.

In July, GP reported that senior rural Tory and Lib Dem MPs, including foreign secretary William Hague, had warned the health secretary that huge swings in funding could force small, remote practices to close.

William Hague, former Conservative party vice chairman Nigel Evans and Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron joined GPs and local campaigners demanding funds to maintain rural practices hit by MPIG reforms.

Mr Evans (Ribble Valley, Con) told GP the impact of MPIG changes 'had not been thought through'.

Under GMS contract changes imposed by the government in England, MPIG top-ups to core pay will be redistributed over seven years from 2014. About 65% of practices in England benefit from MPIG funding, with some receiving as much as half their core pay from the top-up.

Mr Payne said wider NHS reforms and funding cuts meant moves to centralisation and consolidation of services which disadvantaged remote rural communities.

The Rural Health Network conference, organised by the Rural Services Network, will be held in Exeter on 18 October.

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