NHS long-term plan to deliver 'at least' £4.5bn primary care funding boost

NHS spending on primary and community healthcare will be 'at least £4.5bn higher' five years from now, according to a long-term plan for the health service published on Monday.

NHS (Photo: iStock)
NHS (Photo: iStock)

NHS England said that for the first time in NHS history, primary care, community and mental health services would be guaranteed investment rising 'faster than the overall NHS budget'.

The long-term plan confirms: 'We commit to increase investment in primary medical and community health services as a share of the total national NHS revenue spend across the five years from 2019/20 to 2023/24. This means spending on these services will be at least £4.5bn higher in five years' time.'

A £4.5bn increase in funding is the minimum that will be delivered to primary and community care, the plan says. It explains: 'This is a "floor" level of investment that is being nationally guaranteed, that local CCGs and ICSs are likely to supplement further.'

Primary care funding

The long-term plan promises to 'dissolve the historic divide between primary and community health services'. It adds that the £4.5bn additional investment in these services will deliver 'expanded community multidisciplinary teams aligned with new primary care networks based on neighbouring GP practices'.

The funding pledge comes after prime minister Theresa May pledged in November that primary and community care would receive a £3.5bn real-terms funding boost under plans to increase overall NHS investment by £20.5bn through the NHS long-term plan.

NHS leaders say the plan will save 'almost half a million more lives' through steps to tackle major killer conditions, a greater focus on prevention and better use of technology.

The plans will also provide 'digital GP consultations for all those who want them', NHS England has said.

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said the long-term plan 'tackles head-on the pressures our staff face'. He added: 'It sets a practical, costed, phased route map for the NHS’s priorities for care quality and outcomes improvement for the decade ahead.'

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned that solving the NHS workforce crisis was vital. 'There is no use in opening the digital front door to the health service if we don’t have the healthcare staff behind it,' he said.

GP workforce

'While the government has highlighted plans to expand capacity and grow the workforce, very little has been offered in the way of detail. Given that there are 100,000 staff vacancies within the NHS, the long-term sustainability of the health service requires a robust workforce plan that addresses the reality of the staffing crisis across primary, secondary and community care. This will require additional resources for training, funding for which has not been mentioned in the long-term plan.

"There is also a pressing need to address immediate and short-term pressures given that doctors and NHS staff are routinely struggling to cope with rising demand and, as a result, are subject to low morale, stress and burnout. As well as the toll on wellbeing, this has a detrimental impact on recruitment and retention and, unless this is addressed, we risk a workforce plan without the doctors in the future to deliver it.'

Dr Nagpaul warned that the £20.5bn NHS funding hike over five years planned by the government was 'well below the 4% uplift that independent experts have calculated is required'.

He added: 'If we are to truly transform the care we give to patients, and create a sustainable, world-class health service, this long-term plan must deliver beyond grand ambition and address the realities faced by doctors, NHS staff and patients today.'

Londonwide LMCs chief executive Dr Michelle Drage said: 'The government’s decision to prioritise investment in general practice is an important step towards easing the pressures created by decades of underfunding. If the NHS is to be sustainable it needs GPs and practice teams to be properly resourced to do what they do best: keeping people healthy in their communities, so fewer of them need hospital care.'

She called for investment 'directly into frontline care' rather than 'split up into different funds with bureaucratic application processes'.

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