Lord Philip Hunt told GPonline an incoming Labour government would not view the package of support for general practice - which pledged a £2.4bn rise in GP funding by 2020/21 - as a ‘done deal’. The former NHS foundation trust chair said Labour ministers would want to ‘re-examine’ both the GP Forward View rescue package launched last year, and the wider NHS Five Year Forward View, ‘to make sure that it is realistic’.
The party’s election manifesto launched last week promised extra funding for general practice as part of a £37bn five-year investment package, but the shadow minister said Labour could not say at this stage how much would go to primary care. However, the Labour peer confirmed that his party’s plan to scrap the 1% pay cap for NHS staff would be applied, in principle, to GP pay.
Lord Hunt said a Labour government would want to ‘look afresh’ at current GP funding plans. The party would increase general practice’s share of an increased overall NHS funding package. But the Labour peer said he could not commit before the election to matching the 11% share the RCGP has said the GP Forward View would help deliver if fully implemented.
Lord Hunt, who served as a health minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said there was ‘no guarantee’ the GP Forward View would actually deliver the promised funding increase, while the extended access requirements expected from GPs by the current system were a ‘fantasy’.
The BMA’s annual conference of LMCs last week voted to ballot the profession on a co-ordinated list-closure in protest at the GP Forward View failing to deliver necessary resources. The package, launched in April 2016, pledged to increase GP funding by £2.4bn a year by 2020/21, but has been criticised by GPs for failing to deliver necessary funding to practices.
NHS England officials have apologised for the slow delivery of the first tranche of a £40m practice resilience fund, while GP leaders warned that CCGs have demanded new access or system outcomes requirements in return for the £3 per patient transformation funding the GP Forward View promised to support working at scale. Other measures in the GP Forward View include premises investment, bureaucracy and workload reduction, tackling rising indemnity costs and boosting the GP and primary care workforce.
The Labour party promised in its manifesto to spend an extra £37bn over the next parliament, funded from increased income tax for the top 5% of earners and tax on private medical insurance. Analysis by the Nuffield Trust on Monday said while Labour was promising more money than either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats, it was not enough to meet the minimum requirements of the NHS. The think tank said that by 2022/23 the NHS needed at least £137bn to keep pace with forecast economic growth, while Labour’s deal amounted to £135.3bn. 'The NHS looks set to face a further five years of austerity, whoever forms the next government,' it warned.
Lord Hunt denied Labour's plan amounted to more ‘austerity’, but warned it would be 'tough’ for the health service. Labour, he said, was promising an important ‘immediate injection of funding’ that amounted to £8bn a year including £2bn capital.
But the party, he said, was also committed to looking at the longer-term funding requirements of the NHS. Labour has pledged to set up an independent office for budget responsibility for health to oversee funding. Lord Hunt said the party’s plans for an extra £2bn a year for social care would also help, alongside plans to cut NHS running costs by repealing tendering requirements in the Health and Social Care Act. ‘At the end of the day we are offering more money than any other party, plus a commitment to look at long-term funding,' said Lord Hunt.
While promising to increase GP funding, Labour will not commit to either a figure or a share of the overall NHS budget. ‘I'd much rather work with the profession on working out what are the needs of primary care and take it from there, rather than just pluck a figure out of the air,' Lord Hunt told GPonline.
Asked whether the promised new funding would be on top of that pledged by the GP Forward View, the shadow minister said: ‘We're not going to just simply take the … Forward View as kind of a done deal. I think the first thing we'd want to do is to re-examine it to make sure that it is realistic.’
‘We would want to look afresh,' he added. ‘What you can be sure of is that we recognise ... they have to invest more in primary care.’
Lord Hunt said there was ‘no guarantee’ the funding promised in the GP Forward View would actually be delivered. ‘I can't see how the NHS will make progress without a recasting of investments for GPs and primary care,' he said. ‘And we are going to have to find funds [with] which to do it. But I don't want to get hooked on a figure. I think it's better for us to sit down with the profession.’
He added: ‘We're clearly going to put the proportion up ... in the overall context of more money for health.’