Government unveils £3.5bn funding boost for primary and community care

Primary and community care will receive a £3.5bn real-terms increase in funding by 2023/24 as part of the government's long-term plan for the NHS, prime minister Theresa May has said.

The government called the planned investment a 'historic commitment' to increasing the proportion of NHS funding spent on primary and community services.

GP leaders welcomed the investment pledge for primary and community healthcare, but both the BMA and RCGP called for more detail on how the funding would be spent. A leading think tank, meanwhile, warned that the funding increase was 'broadly in line' with planned funding growth NHS-wide and was unlikely to create a major shift in the proportion of the overall budget spent on primary care.

Announcing the plans, the prime minister said: 'Many patients would be much better off being cared for in the community. And the longer a patient stays in hospital the more it costs the NHS and the more pressure is put on its hardworking staff. This needs to change.

Primary care funding

'That’s why I’m announcing a major boost in funding for community healthcare, which will give more patients a genuine and high-quality alternative to hospital. The new approach we’re setting out today will mean more people can leave hospital quicker, or avoid being admitted in the first place – which is better for patients and better for the health service.'

She set out plans for 'community-based rapid response teams' made up of doctors, nurses and other healthcare staff to support patients to remain out of hospital. Ms May also unveiled plans for 'dedicated support for care home residents'.

Health secretary Matt Hancock said: 'GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. To make the NHS sustainable for the long term we need more prevention as well as cure. So we will back our GPs, primary and community healthcare to help keep people healthy and out of hospital in the first place.'

Mr Hancock pledged to 'dissolve' the '70-year-old boundary between GP practices and community nursing' and to guarantee a growing share of the NHS budget for primary and community care.

GP workload

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said an increase in GP and community services funding was 'long overdue' and that 'in principle' the announcement was welcome.

However, he warned: 'As ever, the devil will be in the detail. We have been clear that general practice needs an urgent increase in investment to address the pressures affecting the profession and patients, and while this announcement is an important step forward, we will be seeking urgent assurance that this really is new investment for general practice and we will want early discussions on the detail of where the money will be spent.

'The government has said this funding will reach £3.5bn a year by 2023, but It is also imperative that there is no delay in it reaching the frontline as soon as possible. Hard-working doctors are leaving the profession as they battle rising demand and unsafe workloads, while patients are facing longer waits to be seen, so five years may well be too long to wait if we are to see a reverse in this worrying trend.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'Any investment in patient care in the community is welcome – and it’s essential that general practice, specifically, is at the heart of these plans and a key recipient of this new funding.

'The prime minister’s announcement demonstrates recognition at the highest levels that a strong general practice service is central to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care. It is an important step forward to meeting our calls for our service to receive 11% of the overall NHS England budget, and achieving some of the college’s aspirations for the future of general practice, particularly around providing a wider range of services in the community – but it certainly doesn’t go all the way.

'GPs are working far beyond what is safe or sensible, working ever-increasing hours due to the rising volume and complexity of patient demand, and then facing a mountain of paperwork. It is relentless, and it isn’t safe for anyone involved.'

Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: 'This additional money amounts to annual increases that are broadly in line with the 3.4% overall that the NHS in England is getting over the next five years.

'That means that, far from representing a big shift in funding towards out-of-hospital services, this money will simply allow GPs and community services to keep up with demand over the next five years.'

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