Exclusive: Third of practices still face payment delays from NHS England

Over a third of practices have experienced delayed payments from NHS England in the past 12 months, a GPonline survey has found.

Dr Richard Vautrey: 'It is completely unacceptable for NHS England to fail to ensure their payment agency makes payments correctly and on time'
Dr Richard Vautrey: 'It is completely unacceptable for NHS England to fail to ensure their payment agency makes payments correctly and on time'

The GPonline survey of 268 GPs and practice managers revealed that 35% said their practices were still suffering payment problems, with delays receiving funding for QOF, enhanced services and other contracted services. 

Over 70% of those experiencing delays said they had been forced to cut partners’ pay to cope with the cash flow problems. A fifth said they had had to extend their overdraft, while 12% had asked partners to pay additional funds into the practice account. 

GP leaders said they fear problems could get worse as 40% funding cuts to the payment service are implemented. 

NHS Engalnd said it was not aware of any current system-wide payment delay problems. 

The revelation follows news that outsourcing giant Capita has been awarded preferred bidder status for a £400m contract to run primary care support services (PCS) including GP payments and medical records functions. Services are currently provided either directly by NHS England, through NHS Shared Business Services or other outsourcing firms. 

Capita is due to take over the whole service from September and will be required to deliver a 40% cost saving. The GPC has demanded assurances from NHS England that these savings will not make payment problems even worse.

Capita's plans for the service include automated calculations and more online submissions. The number of PCS centres, of which there were 37 in 2013, will be further reduced to just three 'multi-disciplinary locations' supported by two 'specialist service locations'. 

One GP responding to the survey said: ‘We haven't a clue for what we are being paid, when we do get a statement. A national problem, and an accountant's nightmare, another NHS disgrace.’ Another added: ‘Chaotic - impossible to plan ahead with any degree of certainty.’

GP leaders have previously expressed fear that the outsourcing and funding cuts to PCS services could exacerbate payment problems.

GPonline has reported on delayed, missed and lost payments since the current system was launched in April 2013 with NHS England taking over from PCTs. In April 2014 almost half of GPs were experiencing problems

GPC deputy chairman Dr RIchard Vautrey said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for NHS England to fail to ensure their payment agency makes all payments correctly and on time. Small businesses like general practices require reliable cash flow to pay their staff and their own bills and delays like this can have a real impact. 

He added: ‘Practices and LMCs have a real fear that this situation could get worse as NHS England significantly cut the cost of their payment agency and we need absolute assurance that this will not be allowed to happen.’

An NHS England spokeswoman said: 'In 2013 and 2014 we worked very closely with the GPC to identify and resolve system-wide issues which they were aware of through their members. We continue to work very closely with the GPC, and we are not aware of any current system-wide issues relating to payment delays.

'Any practices experiencing delayed payments due to local issues are advised in the first instance to approach the relevant contact depending on who commissioned the services where the payment is delayed. These include NHS England local offices, CCGs (including those with delegated responsibility for commissioning all GP services) and local authorities.'  

On PCS services, and NHS England spokeswoman said: 'Capita’s proposed plans respond to NHS England’s objectives to realise significant savings and service improvements. These proposals have been shared with PCS service staff and the unions, and will form the basis of a full consultation about the impact of changes once the service has been transferred from NHS England to Capita. 

'Contract award and future transfer is subject to successfully finalising the contract and consultation with our staff and recognised trade unions. We anticipate the transfer of services will be from 1 September 2015. 

'We aren’t in a position to confirm numbers ahead of the consultation closing.'

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