GPs ignored in 2017 budget as NHS England hints at cuts to services

GP leaders hit out at chancellor Philip Hammond for ignoring general practice in his 2017 budget, as NHS England officials hinted that a 'disappointing' £2.8bn funding hike for the health service could force cuts.

GP leaders warned ahead of the budget that the profession was heading for a £3.4bn shortfall in funding by 2020/21 under spending plans set out in the GP Forward View.

As workforce figures published on Wednesday revealed that almost 1,300 full-time equivalent GPs have been lost to the primary care workforce over the past two years while demand continues to rise, GPs insisted that the chancellor must take the opportunity to deliver improved funding for primary care.

But Mr Hammond's £2.8bn pledge for the NHS - £335m of which will be delivered immediately to help hospitals deal with increased pressure over winter, with the rest coming in 2018/19 and 2019/20 - failed to earmark any new funding for general practice.

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'The chancellor has recognised the need for additional funding for the NHS to cope this winter - but it’s very disappointing that he has overlooked the increased pressures that GPs and our teams will be under, and the role general practice plays in alleviating pressures on our colleagues in secondary care.

NHS funding

'As we told him in our letter ahead of the budget, the entire health service is struggling to cope with ever-increasing levels of demand - and as winter approaches, this will only be intensified. We certainly do not begrudge our hospital colleagues more investment to cope with this – but the vast majority of NHS patient contacts are made in general practice, and we deserve our fair share of any funding to help us cope this winter as well.'

The BMA was among many organisations that called the budget a 'missed opportunity' for the NHS. BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: 'The NHS is facing the toughest period in its history and today's budget offers little respite. The extra funding promised may ease some short-term pressures, but it falls far short of addressing the serious, long-term funding problems facing the NHS and doesn’t plug the funding black hole identified by the NHS’ own leaders.'

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens called earlier this year for a £4bn increase in 2018/19 funding for the health service. But after a budget that promised less than half this amount by the end of the coming financial year, officials hinted that cuts to services may be unavoidable.

NHS England chair Sir Malcolm Grant said: 'The extra money the chancellor has found for the NHS is welcome and will go some way towards filling the widely accepted funding gap. However, we can no longer avoid the difficult debate about what it is possible to deliver for patients with the money available. The NHS England board will need to lead this discussion when we meet on November 30.'

NHS England medical director Sir Bruce Keogh said on Twitter: 'Personal view...budget plugs some, but def not all, of NHS funding gap. Will force a debate about what the public can and can’t expect from the NHS. Worrying that longer waits seem likely/unavoidable.'

Labour shadow health secretary John Ashworth added: 'Today’s budget won’t fix the deep and severe problems facing the NHS. In fact the government has committed more extra money for managing Brexit than it has for improving the health service. The proposals for NHS infrastructure rely enormously on a fire sale of assets and are far short of the promises made by Theresa May during the election campaign. The new winter funding is short of the £500m which Labour called for in September.

'With waiting lists at 4m, with over 2.5m waiting beyond 4 hours in A&E in the last year and with trolley waits of 565,000, Theresa May had an opportunity to finally give the NHS the sustainable funding package it needs. Instead Tory ministers let down patients and their families today.'

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