Practice funding 'simply not enough to meet patient needs', warns BMA's top GP

Persistent underfunding of general practice has left practices struggling to address the growing needs of their patients and improve services, the BMA GP committee chair has warned.

Longstanding calls from the BMA and others for a greater share of the overall NHS budget to be spent on primary care and general practice have not been listened to, Dr Richard Vautrey warned.

Speaking at the Best Practice conference in Birmingham, the Leeds GP said: ‘What we’ve been campaigning on for a number of years now is to see a genuine increase on the amount the the NHS pays on general practice.

‘There was a squeeze around funding in the run up to austerity and then a slight increase afterwards. However, the latest figure shows that funding has now flatlined at 8.1% of the NHS budget - it’s simply not enough.

GP funding

‘That’s why GPs are struggling so much [to provide and meet need] because they haven't got the resources, and the NHS isn’t committing sufficient funding to [allow GPs to] address what they need to do in community settings.’

GPonline reported earlier this year that practice funding per patient rose by less than 1% in 2018/19 - well short of inflation.

Despite plans to increase GP practice funding by around £1bn through the five-year GP contract that took effect in April and a further £1.8bn to be invested through primary care networks (PCNs), Dr Vautrey said underfunding was undermining GPs' efforts to tackle problems in their communities and to improve services.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock announced at the Conservative party conference last month that the government had signed off on a multi-million pound hospital investment plan.

Premises investment

But with no equivalent boost for general practice, top GPs warned problems with the NHS were not limited to hospitals and that investment in primary and social care was equally vital.

Dr Vautrey said practices would be unable to improve their digital offer and improve premises without more funding, despite practices having the desire to get started with development work.

A 2019 BMA survey of more than 1,000 practices found that only half of GPs and practice managers felt their premises were suitable for present needs, while 80% predicted that their premises would not be fit for the future.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘This is a problem right across the country, we’ve had promises of over £1bn pounds in funding within the last two or three years, but that didn’t materialise in sufficient quantity and speed to make a difference. You will have seen promises of 40 new hospitals and funding to announce that - where was the announcement about funding for general practice facilities?

‘If we are going to have a greater workforce, we need places to put people. If we are going to do more in the community we need places to do it and we need good quality premises to attract doctors into the community.'

He added: 'We know that many practices want to be able to offer more in terms of digital, whether that be video consultations instead of telephone consultations, whether that be offering more in terms of the front end of the service so that patients are directed or provided with more information rather than necessarily making an appointment. But we need the fundamental investment to make that happen.’

Freeing-up doctors

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: 'GPs are the bedrock of the NHS and we’re backing them with an extra £4.5 billion by 2023/24.

'Spend on primary care services will rise faster than the NHS budget over the next five years, which will also provide 20,000 additional clinical, non-GP staff by 2023/24 – helping to free up doctors to spend more time with their patients.

'To ensure the health service is fit for the future we are embracing advances in technology by giving all patients the right to web and video consultations by April 2021, digital access to their full records and the ability to order repeat prescriptions electronically.'

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