GPs condemn 'deafening silence' from chancellor on COVID support funding

GP leaders have condemned a 'deafening silence' on COVID-19 relief funding for general practice after chancellor Rishi Sunak set out the next steps in the government's response to coronavirus.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Photo: Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak (Photo: Ilyas Tayfun Salci/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

In a 'mini-budget' published on 8 July, the chancellor set out a £30bn 'plan for jobs' package to kickstart the economy after more than three months of lockdown.

The government highlighted £48.5bn in additional spending to date on public services in response to the pandemic - including around £32bn on healthcare, the bulk of which has been spent on personal protective equipment (£15bn), and the 'test, trace, contain and enable' programme (£10bn).

However, the announcement failed to include further details about how the health system, including GP practices, would be reimbursed for extra costs incurred during the pandemic.

GP support package 

The government has promised to provide primary care with a COVID support package. But funding for the multi-million pound scheme has not materialised, with GP leaders warning that practices face ‘severe financial financial difficulty’ and even bankruptcy if they are not supported.

The BMA warned last month that GP practices had been left out of pocket by the government’s failure to agree a financial support package. Chair of the association Dr Chaand Nagpaul labelled the government's failure to commit to significant health investment in the mini-budget 'frankly astonishing'.

He said: 'Earlier this year, the NHS was given a cash injection to help it cope with the pandemic – but we cannot afford for this to be a one-off sticking plaster. Doctors and their colleagues have spent the last four months giving their all, often putting their own health at risk, battling this virus on the frontline.

'Even before this crisis, a decade of underinvestment had resulted in record waits for care, a severely depleted medical workforce and services barely able to cope. If the NHS is to not only meet the needs of patients who have had care suspended during the pandemic but also to be ready for a possible second wave, the government must bring forward significant further investment as a matter of urgency.'

COVID-19 response

Responding to the chancellor's statement, Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said: ‘The deafening silence about, and lack of support for, general practice in today's announcement ignores the fact that the effort to protect people from coronavirus has been a joint endeavour by every single person delivering NHS care.

‘This is a basic matter of covering costs, dealing with a backlog of complex and late presenting illnesses, and preparing for the next stages of managing the new and debilitating long-term effects of COVID-19.

‘The coronavirus pandemic has placed unprecedented demands on GPs, practice teams and patients alike, and we have seen London general practice at its innovative best in the face of this challenge. It is not fair to practices or the communities they serve that they should face severe financial disruption and potential bankruptcy because the NHS will not make good on its promise to reimburse the unforeseen costs created by the fight against coronavirus.’

PPE expenses

She added: ‘Practices have incurred numerous expenses including staff cover, PPE and new IT equipment, all of which has proved essential for keeping patients safe via stringent new procedures and practical adaptations for infection control, and covering capacity lost to staff isolating at home.’

Practices have been forced to pay for locum cover for staff unable to carry out face-to-face consultations, for installation of equipment such as perspex screens in reception areas and to source their own PPE.

In some cases, CCGs have stepped in with additional funding to cover practice costs - but in other areas practices have been forced to cover the costs entirely without support.

The government has said details of a general practice COVID-19 support fund will be published 'in due course'.

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