The ring-fenced GP Covid Capacity Expansion Fund, which will be accessed through regional integrated care systems and CCGs, is intended to support GPs until the end of March 2021 and will allow surgeries to increase the hours of existing staff or employ staff returning to help with COVID.
Confirmation of the £150m fund came as NHS England published final details of a GP-led COVID-19 vaccination programme to be in place from next month. GPonline revealed draft details of the programme last week - including the £150m support fund.
Financial support of up to £120k will also be provided to general practice in addition to the £150m to support surgeries with recruitment processes and the deployment of staff.
NHS England says the funding will boost GP capacity to help teams continue to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as deal with ‘the backlog of care’ and improve services as national activity levels rise.
Official data for September showed that the number of full-time-equivalent (FTE) salaried GPs in England has risen 5.4% since the pandemic began in March. This represents a significant acceleration of a trend that has been ongoing over the past five years as GP increasingly move away from partnership roles.
In a letter to CCGs and GPs, NHS England leaders stressed that ‘every possible measure’ should be taken by practices to maintain and expand general practice capacity by making full use of the new COVID capacity expansion fund.
They said: ‘Systems are encouraged to use the fund to stimulate the creation of additional salaried GP roles that are attractive to practices and locums alike. The fund could also be used for the employment of staff returning to help with COVID, or to increase the time commitment of existing salaried staff.
‘And in line with commitments already made in the GP contract, support will be available to establish flexible pools of employed GPs (including returners) and other staff to deploy across local communities.’
NHS England said funding would help surgeries to focus on ‘seven priority goals’, which include increasing GP numbers and capacity, supporting long-COVID patients and clinically extremely vulnerable patients.
It also said the funding should be used by practices to support the establishment of a simple COVID 'oximetry@home' model, with plans set to be revealed in a parallel letter 'shortly'.
The letter states that access to the fund will be conditional on practices and primary care networks (PCNs) continuing to complete national appointment and workforce data in line with existing contractual requirements.
CCGs were also reminded to offer maximum support to PCNs continuing to work to recruit staff through the additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS). Nearly 6,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff have been employed so far; a figure which could rise to 9,000 by spring, according to NHS England.