The scheme, which runs from 1 October 2017 until 2 April 2018, covers the cost of professional indemnity for any additional out-of-hours or unscheduled work taken on by GPs if it is not provided by the employer. GPs can access the funding via their medical defence organisation.
NHS England provided £5m funding for the initiative last year, but it plans to double this to £10m this winter. NHS England board papers reveal that last year’s scheme helped to deliver an additional 80,000 sessions of GP cover.
The increased funding forms part of NHS England’s plans for winter resilience for 2017/18, which it will discuss at its board meeting today.
As part of the plans NHS England will be assessing ‘general practice readiness’, specifically around the use of extended access.
‘This is the additional evening and weekend GP appointments, supported by advertising/signposting, and wherever possible including booking through NHS 111,’ the board papers say.
According to the papers, extended access is expected to be in place in twice as many CCGs as last winter, which means 50% of the population is covered. In London, 100% of the population will have extended access 'for the duration of the winter'.
NHS England says it expects CCGs to monitor the availability of primary care services so that they can ‘integrate with and support urgent care through this new capacity this winter’.
The board papers say that delayed discharges from hospitals are 'the main risk to the NHS's ability to enter winter with sufficient bed capacity' and that this will be the main focus of work over the next few months.
There has been a 40% increase in delayed discharges in the last three years and the latest statistics for July 2017 showed that just under 6,000 beds were occupied by patients waiting to be discharged to other services.
NHS England will also be aiming for flu vaccination uptake to be 'as high as possible in key groups to ensure the risk of a serious flu outbreak is minimised to the greatest extent possible', the papers add.
The plans come as the NHS is bracing itself for another tough winter. The Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said earlier this week that the NHS needed an additional £500m ‘emergency winter fund’ to avoid a repeat of last year’s problems, which saw ambulances queuing outside A&E departments and the Red Cross claiming the service was suffering a ‘humanitarian crisis’.
Earlier this year GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey warned that last winter's crisis would 'pale into insignificance compared to what will happen in the coming year' if the government failed to act on rising indemnity costs.
A recent GPonline investigation found that three in five GPs have been forced to cut the number of sessions they work or turn down extra sessions because of indemnity costs - potentially costing the NHS the equivalent of more than 2,500 full-time GPs.