Exclusive: CCGs should bail out threatened practices, says health secretary

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt will call on CCGs to invest in general practice to help resolve practice funding crises, he told a meeting of GPs last night.

Jeremy Hunt: met GPs over funding concerns (Photo: Pete Hill)
Jeremy Hunt: met GPs over funding concerns (Photo: Pete Hill)

Mr Hunt met GPs and MPs from across London for crisis talks over fears of practice closures.

Mr Hunt, who is set to announce a new package of policies for general practice live on GPonline at 9.30am Friday, said there could be no national solution to the funding gap and that the NHS must live 'within budget'.

The crisis talks were called after several London MPs raised concerns over threatened practice closures.

GP budget limit

Practice manager at the Jubilee Street Practice in east London, Virginia Patania, said the meeting did not bring the clarity and outcomes GP campaigners had hoped for. 'He told us the government didn't have any extra money and we needed to live within budget,' she told GPonline.

GPs told Mr Hunt that the government should either reverse funding changes imposed in the 2013 contract, including MPIG correction factor withdrawal, or fund a new bailout package for practices hit by the losses, particularly those in deprived areas which are among the hardest hit.

The health secretary said local CCG-led solutions should deal with the effects of funding losses. Ms Patania, who sits on the board of Tower Hamlets CCG, said the lack of a national, government-led solution was ‘really, hugely worrying’. Many CCGs were already under financial pressure, she said. ‘We can’t take money from a sinking organisation to prop up another.’

‘We asked him not to ask us to refer back to NHS England because they are acting on government initiatives and don't have the budget,' she added.

CCGs needed to examine their entire health budgets and work within that, Mr Hunt told the meeting. But GPs fear any CCG-led solution would come too late for practices facing imminent closure.

Mr Hunt said he  would make a statement supporting CCGs' ability to invest in general practice to help assuage fears over conflicts of interest.

GP funding for deprivation

Mr Hunt told the meeting that the effect of deprivation on funding ‘absolutely needs to be looked at’ as a priority for addressing health inequalities, said Ms Patania.

NHS England has already restarted work to examine the case for a greater deprivation weighting in the GP core funding formula. Simon Stevens has previously told GPs that there could be a solution by 2016/17.

Mr Hunt told GPs and supporters last night that the issue was high on the agenda, said Ms Patania. ‘But he didn’t say he will give a statement of support that it will be included [in a new funding agreement].’

GPs challenged the health secretary over his proposals to give them more of a role in public health to tackle health inequalities. ‘We understand he is concentrating on recruitment,' Ms Patania said, ‘but we cannot pay for new GPs.'

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