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Government’s new NHS winter fund overlooks primary care

Government’s new NHS winter fund overlooks primary care

Concerns have been raised that primary care and general practice will not receive a cut of the government’s newly announced £200m funding package to support health services through the winter.

Following a meeting between the prime minister and clinical leaders on Wednesday, the government has today outlined new funding which it said will help ‘boost NHS resilience and ensure patients receive the care they need this winter’.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has not specified where the money will be spent, but the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) – who attended the meeting at No 10 – said it was ‘disappointing to see that there is no additional funding for primary care’.

While RCGP chair Professor Kamila Hawthorn said it was ‘encouraging’ that the general practice had been represented at the talks, which centred on secondary care, she noted that ‘the winter pressures that GPs and their teams face are too often overshadowed by the focus and funding hospitals receive’.

‘If we’re to prevent a health crisis this winter, we must make sure primary care is not overlooked,’ she added.

‘If our under-staffed GP teams are unable to cope with an influx of patients this winter, we’ll likely see unsustainable spill over into other, equally under pressure, branches of the health service – further jeopardising the effectiveness of the NHS.’

Professor Hawthorne added that general practice was in a ‘precarious position’ this winter as clinical experts expect a spike in conditions such as flu and strep throat.

‘Winter will be with us all too soon and, once again, general practice is being pushed closer to the precipice through a lack of preparation,’ Professor Hawthorne said.

According to the government, the £200m investment is hoped to ensure patients are seen by the NHS as quickly as possible during the winter months.

And the priority for the meeting and this new funding was to ease pressures in urgent and emergency care services, while also protecting waiting list targets.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said the funding will ‘bolster the health service during its busiest period, while protecting elective care so we can keep cutting waiting lists’.

But Royal College of Nursing (RCN) professional lead for primary care nursing, Heather Randle, said it was ‘essential’ that primary care was also given the right resources this winter.

‘Primary care provides the foundation for an efficient NHS – delivering essential services to the public such as the Covid and flu vaccines,’ she said.

‘When primary care is working well, it can relieve pressures on other parts of the NHS and stop them becoming overwhelmed.’

Ms Randle added: ‘It is essential primary care is given access to all the resources they need to deliver the vital care all their patients need this winter.

‘For the longer term we need to see a proper plan for primary care that includes the investment in the nursing workforce to prevent pressures from overwhelming services and damaging patient care whatever the time of year.’

As part of its winter plans, the DHSC also pledged an additional £40m in funding to ‘improve social care capacity, strengthen admissions avoidance and boost discharge rates’.

As part of this package, local authorities will be able to bid for a share of the £40m in order to buy more services and more packages of home care in the community.

Chief executive of the National Care Forum (NCF) Vic Rayner said that while the funding commitment to social care was ‘encouraging’, the ‘real emphasis here needs to be on the importance of equal partnership working between health and social care’.

And she stressed there must be ‘a renewed commitment to ambitious adult social care reform’ – something she said ‘appears to have stalled as the government has narrowed its focus towards hospital discharge and NHS backlogs’.

Announcing the funding, health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said: ‘I know winter brings immense challenges for the NHS which is why we are working with health leaders to make sure we are prepared earlier.

‘We are working closely with trusts to see how we can continue to use technology and new ways of working to strengthen health and social services, alongside the thousands of new hospital beds and hundreds of new ambulances we are already providing.’

Earlier this year, the government committed more than £1.2bn funding to primary care via a recovery plan for the sector.

However, when the plan was published, concerns were raised around the omission of nursing from within the document itself, and its creation.

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