The government has announced plans to inject an extra £3.5 billion a year into primary and community healthcare by 2023/24, calling the investment a “historic commitment” to increasing the proportion of NHS funding spent on primary and community services.
The move is designed to reduce unnecessary hospital stays, with current analysis estimating that as many as a third of people in hospital stay longer than they need to, often because they can’t get treatment close to home, and that over a third of hospital admissions from care homes are avoidable.
Primary and community health services “are capable of relieving the burden on our hospitals over the coming years and revolutionising the way high-quality care is delivered for our most vulnerable patients,” said health secretary Matt Hancock.
“GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. To make the NHS is sustainable for the long term we need more prevention as well as cure. So we will back our GPs, primary and community healthcare to help keep people healthy and out of hospital in the first place,” he added.
In response to the announcement, Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), has urgently renewed previous calls for “general practice [to] receive 11% of the overall NHS budget as part of the forthcoming 10-year plan for the NHS.”
She continued: “The Prime Minister’s announcement demonstrates recognition at the highest levels that a strong general practice service is central to the long-term sustainability of the NHS and patient care. It is an important step forward to meeting our calls for our service to receive 11% of the overall NHS England budget, and achieving some of the College’s aspirations for the future of general practice”.
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey said an increase in GP and community services funding was long overdue.
However, he warned: “As ever, the devil will be in the detail. We have been clear that general practice needs an urgent increase in investment to address the pressures affecting the profession and patients, and while this announcement is an important step forward, we will be seeking urgent assurance that this really is new investment for general practice and we will want early discussions on the detail of where the money will be spent.”
The announcement forms a key part of the Long-Term Plan for the NHS, plan for which were revealed by the prime minister earlier this year alongside the biggest ever cash boost for the health service.
Nuffield Trust Senior Policy Analyst Sally Gainsbury said the $3.5 billion a year for community and primary care actually "amounts to annual increases that are broadly in line with the 3.4% overall that the NHS in England is getting over the next five years.
“That means that, far from representing a big shift in funding towards out-of-hospital services, this money will simply allow GPs and community services to keep up with demand over the next five years," she argues. "That’s important, but it means the new money announced today is not going to lead to a significant change in the way that people experience healthcare.