Health

NHS in £2.4bn funding boost for GP services in England

Stethoscope Image copyright TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

NHS chiefs in England have announced a five-year plan to help GP surgeries "get back on their feet" and to improve access for patients.

The rescue package will see an extra £2.4bn a year ploughed into services by 2020 - a rise of 14% once inflation is taken into account.

It will pay for 5,000 more GPs and extra staff to boost practices.

It comes after warnings from the profession that the future of general practice was at real risk.

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Media caption£2.4bn for GP surgeries - but what will it mean for you?

Rising patient demand coupled with a squeeze in funding has led to patients facing longer waits for appointments and increasing difficulties getting through to their local surgeries.

Both the British Medical Association and Royal College of GPs have been increasingly vocal about the pressures over the past year.

Unveiling the GP strategy, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said he was "openly acknowledging" the problems and acting.

"GPs are by far the largest branch of British medicine and as a recent British Medical Journal headline put it - if general practice fails, the whole NHS fails.

"So if anyone 10 years ago had said, 'Here's what the NHS should now do - cut the share of funding for primary care and grow the number of hospital specialists three times faster than GPs,' they'd have been laughed out of court.

"But looking back over a decade that's exactly what's happened. Now we need to act and this plan sets out exactly how."


GPs under pressure

Image copyright Science Photo Library
  • There are an estimated 370 million consultations a year - up 70 million in five years
  • One in 10 GP trainee places went unfilled last year
  • A third of GPs say they are planning to retire in the next five years
  • There are 32,628 full-time GPs - a rise of just over 500 in five years
  • The number of GPs per head of population has fallen since 2009 to 60.6 per 100,000 people in 2014

The extra money, coming from the overall increases in the total NHS budget which has already been announced, will bring the total spent on general practice to £12bn by 2020.

It means more than 10% of health spending will go on GP care - up from just over 8% currently.

The investment will help pay for the 5,000 extra GPs and 5,000 more non-medical staff, including nurses, pharmacists and therapists, that were promised by the Conservatives in their election manifesto.

Alongside the money, the strategy also includes:

  • a dedicated pot for extra support, including help for GPs suffering stress and burnout
  • a relaxation of rules, making it easier to renovate premises or build new ones
  • streamlined inspections for the best-performing practices, meaning re-inspections need take place only every five years
  • a public campaign to encourage junior doctors to become GPs
  • the recruitment of 500 doctors from abroad to boost numbers

The announcement was widely welcomed by the profession. Dr Maureen Baker, who chairs the Royal College of GPs, said: "This is the most significant announcement for our profession since the 1960s.

"For too long GPs have been undervalued, underfunded, and not recognised for the essential role we play. We genuinely hope that today's news marks a turning point for general practice."

British Medical Association GP leader Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the strategy was a "vital step", but added it was essential "words are translated into action".

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