Practices out of pocket as COVID-19 relief fund fails to materialise

GP practices have been left out of pocket because a multi-million pound COVID-19 relief fund promised by the government has yet to materialise, the BMA has warned.

Practices have been forced to pay for locum cover for staff unable to carry out face-to-face consultations, for installation of equipment such as perspex screens in reception areas and for personal protective equipment (PPE).

In some cases, CCGs have stepped in with additional funding to cover practice costs - but in other areas practices have been forced to cover the costs entirely without support.

BMA GP committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey told GPonline that the doctors' union had yet to receive 'any information from the Treasury' about plans to release funding to cover practice costs.

COVID-19 costs

He said the delay in providing support for practices was frustrating and undermining trust after practices 'stepped up and responded effectively and swiftly' from the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

'Right at the outset the chancellor made it very clear they would do whatever it takes [to support NHS services] - and yet for general practice we are still waiting for that response,' Dr Vautrey said.

'This is vital funding to support practices with investments they have already made, but also going forward. We are now seeing increased footfall of patients coming into practices, and practices need support with making the necessary adaptations to their premises to make them safe for staff and patients - and we need the Treasury to be behind us.'

Dr Vautrey said practices needed support with costs such as bringing in locum cover when staff were unable to come in and provide face-to-face consultations, particularly as a result of risk assessments.

Shielding patients

'If practices have had people shielding and they have had to pull someone else in to cover that work there is an additional cost for that,' he said.

'Practices have had to purchase PPE because the supply chain wasn’t adequate, particularly early on in the pandemic, the costs around new services that were put in place in good faith by practices to respond to the pandemic - all of these issues were done rapidly and on the understanding that practices would not be out of pocket.'

The GP committee chair said costs for practices and support available from local CCGs varied from area to area, but that an investment of millions of pounds was needed nationally.

He pointed out that this was 'small change' by comparison with the billions spent on the COVID-19 response overall - but that for individual practice the loss of thousands of pounds could be highly significant.

'It's more about the undermining of trust, of confidence. If practices have stepped up and responded effectively and swiftly - and they have - they need to be able to rely on the government commitment to be delivered and so far that has not been the case.'

The DHSC confirmed earlier this month that extra funding would be delivered in due course as part of a general practice COVID-19 support fund.

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