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General practice funding rose by 3% last year

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j4367 (Published 20 September 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j4367
  1. Gareth Iacobucci
  1. The BMJ

Investment in general practice increased by 3% in real terms in the UK last year, official figures have shown. But the BMA has expressed concern that last year’s increase was less than the 5% increase in 2015-16, despite government pledges to invest more in general practice.

The data from NHS Digital show that in 2016-17 total investment in general practices increased by 3.2% in England, 2.7% in Wales, 2% in Scotland, and 1.3% in Northern Ireland in real terms.1

In cash terms there was a 5.1% increase across the UK (5.2% in England, 4.7% in Wales, 4% in Scotland, and 3.3% in Northern Ireland).

The total UK spend on general practice, including the reimbursement of drugs dispensed, was £11.9bn (€13.4bn; $16bn) last year, up from £11.3bn in 2015-16. This included £10.2bn in England (up from £9.7bn in 2015-16), £511.3m in Wales (£488.3m); £861.9m in Scotland (£828.6m), and £275.6m in Northern Ireland (£266.8m).

The sharper increase in England reflected a 1% uplift in pay and uplift in expenses to cover inflation that was fully applied to the global sum last year. Practices in England also received additional funding to cover increases in superannuation and regulatory fees and indemnity inflation.

The figures for England show that £386 000 was invested in programmes stemming from the General Practice Forward View last year, including £123 000 for improving access and £136 000 for improving estates and technologies.

But the BMA, which produced its own analysis of the data for England,2 said that despite the increases the proportion of total NHS funding going into GP services fell from 9.6% in 2005-6 to 7.9% in 2016-17. It said that this left the government £3.7bn short of the amount required to meet the widely accepted target of 11% of the overall NHS budget being allocated to general practice.

Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA’s General Practitioners Committee, said that the additional funding this year had helped struggling practices, but he said that “far greater levels of sustained investment” were needed to ease pressures driven by rising demand from patients, which is far outstripping current resources, and staff shortages.

“The rate of extra investment has also noticeably slowed in the past year despite government promises of an acceleration in resources directed to frontline patient care during the same period,” Vautrey added.

“Patients need the government to step up its funding commitment to general practice and deliver with greater speed its promised extra investment so that GP services are able to keep pace with the rising expectations and needs of the public.”

Beccy Baird, fellow in health policy at the health think tank the King’s Fund, said that NHS England needed to provide better quality data on how much extra funding and staff were required. “It is still unclear how much of this increased investment is actually reaching frontline services and whether it is sufficient to meet the rising demands placed on GPs,” she said.

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