NHS budget will be rebalanced towards GPs as extra £20bn kicks in, says Hancock

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock has pledged to use the planned £20bn NHS budget increase to 'change the balance' of NHS spending towards primary care.

NHS funding shift (Photo: iStock.com/georgeclerk)

Speaking at the Best Practice conference in Birmingham, Mr Hancock said he is in talks with NHS England about how the uplift in funding - which will see the annual NHS budget increase by £20bn by 2023 - should be spent.

He said he wanted to ensure that any future spending would help ‘shift our focus to keeping people well, living in the community and out of hospital for longer’.

‘The future of the NHS, no less, rests on getting primary care right and on shifting our focus so we keep people out of secondary care,’ he said. ‘Currently, of the £114bn of the NHS budget, we know that a very large proportion of that goes to acute care. Yet we also know that - [of] the determinants of health lifespan - just around 20% [are] related to acute care.’

GP recruitment

The comments on NHS funding came as the health and social care secretary unveiled a record rise in GP trainee numbers in 2018, just weeks after he conceded that his predecessor's pledge to boost the GP workforce by 5,000 full-time equivalent GPs would not happen by the original 2020/21 deadline.

Highlighting the changing nature of the NHS, the secretary of state added: ‘Last year we spent just £16.4bn on primary care and public health together. Now for past generations it made sense to focus on things like heart disease and stroke… Yet the challenges now, as you know better than anyone, are around multimorbidities, so the focus of the system has to move.’

He continued: ‘So as we put that extra £20bn into the NHS we must change the balance of spending and shift our focus to keeping people well, living in the community and out of hospital for longer.’

Asked to confirm whether the share of the NHS budget spent on general practice will be restored to 11% - a figure both the BMA and the RCGP have said the profession needs to become sustainable - Mr Hancock said he was ‘working out the numbers’.

NHS budget

The planned uplift in NHS funding provided a 'moment when you can try to change some of these balances', the health and social care secretary told the conference. He added: The exact numbers have to be agreed with NHS and published as part of a long-term plan and they are the conversations that we’re having.’

Although GP leaders have welcomed plans for a £20bn real-terms NHS funding boost by 2023, but have warned it still ‘falls short’ of the health service's needs. The annual increase to 2023 will fall short of the average 3.7% annual funding growth the NHS has seen since it began in 1948, and leading think tanks have warned that the health service needs closer to 4% growth over the coming five years.

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