Exclusive: GP payments services face cuts amid cash-flow chaos

The GPC has condemned a 'bizarre' decision by NHS England to make cuts to services that administer GP funding while many practices face 'desperate' cash-flow problems caused by delayed payments.

Payment: NHS England could seek to cut cost of GP pay administration
Payment: NHS England could seek to cut cost of GP pay administration

NHS England confirmed to GP that it planned to begin looking for ‘efficiencies’ in family health services (FHS), the back-office support services that process payments to practices.

LMC leaders have been told cuts to the services, also known as primary care support, could add up to £40m, although an NHS England said that figure was not correct.

The news comes after GP revealed plans to reform FHS services, with the possibility of putting the back-office services out to tender to regional providers.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said NHS bosses should not even consider cutting the service while payment problems continued.

‘It is clear that in many parts of the country the system is struggling both in terms of capacity and ability to deliver a quality service. And yet, if there are attempts to actually reduce that service, it could actually make the system worse.

‘They need to get the system up and running first before any thoughts about whether it can be made more efficient or not.’

The BMA believes the cuts were ordered by Treasury officials. Dr Vautrey said it was ‘quite bizarre’ that officials were suggesting an efficiency review ‘at a time when large numbers of practices are not getting paid properly’.

‘The payment system since transition has been horrendous in many areas, causing significant cash flow problems.’

Neither the Treasury nor the DH were able to confirm whether their officials had ordered the cuts.

Last month GP reported that NHS England was looking to reform inconsistent FHS systems inherited from PCTs. Senior figures in the organisation are thought to favour outsourcing the services to regional providers, although a spokesman stressed that no decisions had yet been made.

Around 30% of NHS England area teams currently have in-house staff to administer the payments, while others contract the service out to providers. GP leaders, however, fear the plans could exacerbate problems.

NHS England has said it is working to address technical problems that emerged when responsibility for payments transferred from PCTs to its area teams, but is also looking at reform of family health services (FHS) administration services.

A spokeswoman for NHS England commenting on its efficiencies plan said: ‘As is the case with all parts of the NHS, we have to live within our resources and so far these services have not been subject to the same review as other support services. We will be looking to identify where there is any room for efficiencies in this area, but ensuring a high-quality service will be our priority.

‘Discussions around this are at an early stage and no decisions have yet been made.  Any decisions will be made in consultation with primary care support staff and we will keep practices informed throughout.’

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