Exclusive: Use £150m Challenge Fund to support existing out-of-hours care, say GPs

More than half of GPs believe the £150m Challenge Fund set up by prime minister David Cameron to support routine seven-day GP services would be better spent on existing out-of-hours primary care, a GPonline survey shows.

GP out-of-hours service: could Challenge Fund cash be diverted?
GP out-of-hours service: could Challenge Fund cash be diverted?

A total of 58% of more than 400 GPs who took part in the survey agreed that the Challenge Fund should be scrapped, and its funding diverted to pay for existing out-of-hours services.

Last month the BMA's blueprint for a new future for general practice also called for Challenge Fund cash to be used to support existing urgent care services.

The BMA report criticised the government's attempts to establish a 'parallel routine service' and demanded integration and better funding for urgent care. The report demanded the integration of urgent care across 111, GP out-of-hours and urgent care centres, with fixed minimum staffing levels for out-of-hours organisations.

BMA leaders have warned that rolling out routine seven-day GP services similar to those in Challenge Fund areas across England could cost £1bn a year.

GP out-of-hours funding

Just 19% of GPs did not want the Challenge Fund cash switched to existing out-of-hours, while a further 23% were unsure.

Some of those who disagreed with diverting the funding to out-of-hours said it should be used to support day-time GP services.

But others said it was a 'no-brainer' that the money would be better spent on out-of-hours. One GP said: 'Routine care is not required at weekends (perhaps Sat am only). Patients need to know that there is a well-staffed, reliable service available in case they become unwell at weekends - in our area many shifts are unfilled.'

One respondent said: 'More GPs out-of-hours with linked up IT is all we need. It just needs more money!' Another GP added: 'Having experienced a cut-back out-of-hours service as a patient very recently, I am convinced more funding is needed.'

Another respondent hit out at funding being wasted on 'headline-grabbing' schemes. 'They should stop pulling money away from primary care and coming up with headline-grabbing but ultimately expensive wastes of time as they currently do.'

Challenge Fund schemes in parts of England have struggled to attract patients to use seven-day GP services.

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