GPs demand equal treatment as NHS rolls out £145m hospital winter fund

GP practices should not be left out as the government rolls out a £145m winter funding package for hospitals, the BMA has warned.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said last week that the government was handing more than £145m to NHS trusts across England to improve emergency care ahead of winter.

The funding annoucement comes after an extreme NHS crisis during the 2017/18 winter, which forced the NHS to cancel tens of thousands of elective operations across England, with hospitals almost entirely full for several weeks in a row.

GP practices faced a major knock-on impact as they managed patients facing extended waits for operations - as a heavy flu season also drove up workload.

NHS winter crisis

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey - who told GPonline earlier this year that last winter was the worst he had faced in 30 years as a GP - warned this week that 'if the government can find new funding for hospitals, it needs to do the same for general practice and community-based services'.

However, he warned that 'short-term fixes' were not what general practice needed, calling for improved long-term funding to ease chronic year-round pressure on GPs.

Dr Vautrey said: 'As the BMA has repeatedly stated, there is no longer isolated winter pressures as the pressure on the NHS is the whole year long. This is certainly the case in general practice, with workload pressures continuing day after day and month after month.

'General practice needs additional resources to cope with this year-round demand and if the government can find new funding for hospitals it needs to do the same for general practice and community-based services. We need recurrent funding, not just short-term fixes, to support an expanded workforce to have greater capacity and resilience to meet our patients' growing needs.'

Emergency care

Announcing the winter funding for hospitals, health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: 'Staff put in a huge amount of work preparing our health service for the challenge of treating more patients over winter and it’s right that we make sure they have the resources they need so people receive the care they deserve.

'That’s why I will be providing an additional £145m now to upgrade wards, redevelop A&Es and further improve emergency care in time for winter. Through the long-term plan for the NHS we will go further, providing an extra £20.5bn a year by 2023/24.'

GPonline reported earlier this year on the experiences of a GP hospitalised for septic arthritis in his knee who was forced to scream and beg for help during a four-week stay in hospital at the height of the winter crisis.

Polling by this website found that one in four GPs saw a patient harmed - with some reporting patients had died - because of extreme pressure on the NHS during the 2017/18 winter.

Intolerable strain

NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said the winter funding for hospitals 'will make a difference' and was 'an acknowledgement of the intolerable strain faced by too many patients and staff last winter'.

He echoed Dr Vautrey's warning that the NHS was under strain all year, and said plans for increased NHS funding could offer a chance to tackle underlying problems with the health service.

'We have an opportunity to develop a system-wide solution, with a funding settlement and the forthcoming NHS plan. That must mean investing more in, and drawing more from, community and GP services, who can help prevent patients from needing hospital admission,' he said. 'Alongside this we must secure significant investment not just in the NHS but also in social care. Without this, we will just perpetuate a cycle of seasonal crises.'

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