'Broken' planning system threatens GPs near large housing projects, MPs warn

GP practices near large housing developments need ring-fenced funding to expand their premises and recruit extra staff to avoid being overwhelmed by increased patient demand, MPs have argued.

Building site
GPs near housing projects need funding (Photo: Monty Rakusen/Getty Images)

Speaking at a debate on general practice and large housing developments in the House of Commons, Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire Andrew Selous said practices were being put under ‘unacceptable strain’ due to a lack of resources to improve services for incoming patients.

Mr Selous said that contributions from section 106 funding and the community infrastructure levy (CIL) - two initiatives allowing practices to apply for premise funding - were not enough and often reserved for other community projects.

He added that the current funding system was ‘broken’, with funding coming ‘too late’ for practices to react to expanding populations - and called for guaranteed funding for primary care services. Another MP warned that poor working spaces and high workloads would continue to hurt GP recruitment.

GP premises

Calls for extra practice funding for staff and premises follow reports from GPs that a shortage of space is forcing practices to 'juggle desks' to fit additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) staff.

Mr Selous told peers that practices in his constituency already had ‘below-average’ numbers of GPs and that they would be put under ‘even greater strain’ when plans for 14,000 new homes were completed - adding there was a disconnect between housing and primary care planning.

He said: ‘I have rarely found children without a school place to go to. However we plan for additional school capacity when massive new housing schemes come along, the system seems to work reasonably well.

‘That is not my experience with general practice capacity, however. I represent an area that is due to have about 14,000 new homes built and that already has, before those new residents arrive, below-average numbers of GPs and primary care staff.

Section 106

‘The system is broken, and that is the reason I have been campaigning on the issue and have called this debate. Contributions from section 106 funding or from the community infrastructure levy often go to provide other facilities rather than for health.

‘It should be a requirement that leads to a clear outcome [that primary care services receive] additional ring-fenced health funding to employ and accommodate the necessary GPs and practice nurses that the area’s population requires.’

Mr Selous also suggested that there should be guaranteed primary care funding for each 1,000 new homes built in an area, which is ‘allocated at the time planning permission is granted’ and delivered as new residents arrive.

Democratic Unionist Party MP for Strangford, Northern Ireland, Jim Shannon backed calls for ring -fenced funding for practices. He said: ‘The choice for the GP service is to move out of town or simply to carry on as it is, which will not meet the needs of the practice, with the growing numbers coming. We need fully serviced practices and must be able to host them.’

Infrastructure levy

He added: ‘How can we entice young people to be doctors when they go for work experience in poky offices and are inundated with unsafe patient numbers.’

Councils can use section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 to require a financial or other contribution to mitigate the effects of a development. Traditionally this has been used mainly to require contributions to roads infrastructure, affordable housing and schools.

GP practice can also access funding for estates via the CIL, which was introduced in April 2010 and gives councils across England the power to claim millions of pounds from developers to help improve premises.

Responding to calls for extra funding for practices to expand premises and workforce, housing minister Stuart Andrew said: ‘We need to ensure that new homes automatically translate into new infrastructure, whether that be hospitals, GP practices, schools or parks and play areas, because they are all things that we rely on.

‘That is why we are exploring the introduction of a new infrastructure levy to replace the existing system of developer contributions…At the moment, we plan for that new levy to be payable on completion of development.’

The government revealed in its August 2020 Planning white paper that it intends to replace Section 106 and the CIL with a new National Infrastructure Levy - giving councils greater flexibility over using levy funds.

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