COVID-19 funding for general practice cannot stop in March, GPs warn chancellor

COVID-19 support funding for general practice must be increased and extended beyond the end of the current financial year, the BMA and RCGP have warned ahead of the chancellor's 2021 budget announcement.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey and RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photos: BMA; Pete Hill)
BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey and RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall (Photos: BMA; Pete Hill)

In a joint letter to the chancellor, BMA GPC committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey and RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall argued that additional funding must be given to GPs to guarantee that patients could continue to access normal services.

COVID-19 funding to date had helped practices work on priority areas through the pandemic but was  ‘spread very thinly for multiple purposes’, the GP leaders said - warning funding must be increased and extended beyond the end of March.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak will unveil his 2021 budget on 3 March, with a number of sectors keen to see what support the government will offer to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

COVID-19 vaccination

The GP leaders urged the government to come good on its promise of adding 6,000 GPs to the workforce to deal with the impact of COVID-19, as well as supporting primary care networks to bring in 26,000 additional staff to general practice. They also said that funding needs to be increased for GP training to deal with the expansion of places, while it is ‘crucial’ that nationally funded PPE continues.

Dr Vautrey and Professor Marshall stressed in their letter that the success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, which has seen over 20m people given their first jab, was ‘underpinned by investment’ that must be maintained.

They said: ‘While vaccination of the first nine priority cohorts is not expected to be completed until at least Easter, and the government’s aim is now to vaccinate every adult over the age of 18 by the end of July, the clinical director funding and the £150m/£30m per month COVID Capacity Fund are currently only available up to the end of March, and are spread very thinly for multiple purposes.

‘We are clear that these funds must be extended, and further funding be provided to enable general practice to continue to deliver an effective and rapid vaccination programme, alongside continuing to deliver routine services to patients in need.’

GP workforce

They continued: ‘The nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic will not be possible without sufficient and sustained investment in the general practice workforce and its estate. We urgently need the government to deliver on its promise for 6,000 more GPs and 26,000 other staff in general practice to enable us to effectively manage the impact of COVID-19, on top of long-term NHS pressures.’

Last February it was announced that GP training places would rise from 3,500 to 4,000 a year from 2021. The number of GPs recruited last year was the highest in NHS history after 3,793 doctors accepted posts.

The GP leaders said more funding was needed to cope with this increase. ‘Government must ensure that Health Education England has the funding it needs to deliver on commitments to expand the GP and wider general practice workforce,’ they said.

Last August the government announced COVID-19 relief funding of £150m to help practices boost workforce capacity and cover costs incurred during the pandemic.

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