Around 2.400 GPs could be lost under new plans for integrated social and health care funding unveiled in the spending review last week, the Royal College of General Practitioners has warned.
While there was a collective sigh of relief last week as it emerged the NHS budget would continue to be 'protected', concern among GPs is growing that they could significantly lose out in a funding reshuffle announced by the Chancellor.
By 2015/16, £2 billion of NHS money will be diverted into a pooled fund - which by then will be worth a total £3.8 billion - for joint spending with local authorities on health and social care.
But the RCGP argues that, if general practice is not protected, then £200 million of its current cash stream could siphoned off into this pooled fund, "which many observers believe will primarily be used to pay for cash-strapped social services".
Based on the current funding formula, under which general practice gets just 9% of current NHS funding, the RCGP has calculated that the cash lost to surgeries across England would be the equivalent of the sum paid for 2,390 salaried GPs.
"At a time when we are already struggling to cope with the demands of an ageing population and a patient client group that has increasingly complex health issues, it is ludicrous that the Chancellor has put in place a programme that risks taking millions of pounds out of general practice," said RCGP chair Clare Gerada. "Right now, we need 10,000 more GPs, not 2,400 fewer.”
Fund to benefit both
But a Department of Health spokesperson reportedly told the Guardian: "this isn't a loss of money from the NHS to social care – we are creating a joint fund that will benefit both. Spending money on social care not only provides a better service for individuals, it also eases pressure on the NHS".
Nevertheless, given that recent research by the College indicates the field has reached breaking point, with 85% of UK doctors believing general practice to be "in crisis" and almost half unable to guarantee safe patient care, the group has called on the government do guarantee that none of the money put into the pooled fund will be diverted away from general practice.
Elsewhere, health care watchdog Monitor has also just unveiled that it will be examining the commissioning and provision of GP services in England "to see if there are barriers preventing patients from securing access to the best possible care".