£20bn NHS funding boost by 2023 'still falls short', GPs warn

GP leaders have welcomed plans for a £20bn real-terms NHS funding boost by 2023 but warned it still falls short of the health service's needs - and demanded more detail on the share general practice will receive.

Prime minister Theresa May: NHS funding pledge
Prime minister Theresa May: NHS funding pledge

Prime minister Theresa May said on the BBC's Andrew Marr show that the NHS funding boost was 'about securing its future'. The government had worked with NHS leaders to draw up a 10-year plan for the health service that aimed to deliver 'world-class healthcare', she said.

The plans would require 'significantly more money going into the NHS', the prime minister said. 'It means that at the end of five years, by 2023/24, there will be £20bn more in real terms being spent on the NHS.'

She added: 'Some people may remember seeing a figure on the side of a bus a while back - a figure of £350m a week in cash. What I am announcing is that in 2023/24 there will be about £600m more a week in cash going into the NHS. We have to fund that - that will be through the Brexit dividend, the fact that we are not sending vast amounts of money to the EU, and we as a country will be contributing a bit more.'

GP funding gap

However, GPs have demanded more detail on how the funding will filter through to primary care - and  campaigners and economists have highlighted that headline figures of a 3.4% uplift to the NHS budget are misleading, because the increase applies to NHS England funding alone - not the full DHSC budget.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the funding announcement was 'welcome confirmation' that the government was committed to maintaining the 'exceptional work that our health service has done over the past 70 years'.

But she warned that it was essential that the funding delivered a much-needed increase in GP funding. Both the RCGP and BMA have called for the share of the NHS budget spent on general practice to be restored to the 11% share it has received in the past - with the BMA warning that on current plans, GPs are set to be around £3.5bn short of the share of NHS funding they need by 2020/21.

Professor Stokes-Lampard said: 'The 3.4% real-terms increase in investment is to be welcomed. However, it still falls short of the 4% that the Institute of Fiscal Studies recently claimed is necessary for a health service fit for the future, and which the RCGP has supported - so it is vital that any new investment is used wisely, and in the long-term benefits of patients and the entire NHS.

'General practice provides the sustainable pillars for the NHS - but while our workload is escalating in both volume and complexity, the share of the budget we receive is less than it was a decade ago, and our workforce is actually declining.

GP workload

'As a result, GPs and our teams are working under conditions that are simply not safe for ourselves, our teams, or our patients. This is unsustainable and we call on the prime minister to specifically address this in the detail of her plans.'

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline: 'Following a decade of underinvestment that has led to the current workforce and workload crisis in general practice we have been vigorously campaigning for a significant increase in investment to address the fundamental problems we face.

'The funding promised is significant progress although not as much as most independent economists have identified is needed. We will now be looking carefully at the detail and working with NHS England and the government to ensure that the clear needs of general practice that we highlighted in our Saving General Practice report are prioritised and addressed.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'Patients, doctors and healthcare staff have been united in calling for an urgent and substantial increase in funding as the NHS struggles under unprecedented pressures that have driven waiting times and delays to historic highs.

'It is refreshing that the government has finally conceded that our health service needs extra resources, with BMA analysis showing a significant funding gap compared to other leading European countries. However, we will be scrutinising the detail of this new package of funding to assess the degree to which it will make a real difference in both the short and long term to frontline patient care.'

Health campaigner and London GP Dr Louise Irvine said the funding announcement was 'too little too late' and a 'missed opportunity to put the health service back on its feet'.

She said: 'The Conservative government’s promised funding increase for the NHS is too little too late. It is in fact only 3% a year - they’ve done their usual smoke and mirrors to make it appear more by only counting the increase to the NHS England budget and not the overall DHSC budget.'

Dr Irvine warned that 4% was the minimum rise needed. 'I fear that patients will continue to suffer needlessly and staff will continue to leave the profession due to stress and burnout,' she said.

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