The decision to divert £800 million of primary, community and mental health care funding into dealing with the NHS deficit has been condemned by doctors’ leaders.
New Treasury rules dictate that the funding must be utilised in order to address the growing fiscal problems of the healthcare system.
NHS England has already written to commissioners across the healthcare system indicating that the entirety of the proportion of their budgets intended to mitigate financial risk must indeed be utilised to offset deficits in spending.
The British Medical Association has particularly condemned the decision, describing it as scandalous.
And the Royal College of General Practitioners was very much in accordance with this verdict, suggesting that it makes little sense to deny funding to primary care services in order to deliver what it described as a sticking plaster solutions.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens had informed NHS leaders in June that the contingency fund “would have been available from CCGs for mental health services, community health services, primary care and other things”.
Stevens went on to signal the government’s intention to make funds available to NHS organisations.
“We want to be able to release that funding, and spend on mental health services and community services, so our delivery on these control totals will have a direct impact on our ability to free up that incremental spending for the priorities that we know we have got to resource”.
But the about-turn has been strongly condemned by healthcare groups.
RCGP chair professor Helen Stokes-Lampard was strongly critical of the decision to divert funding away from frontline services and support.
“It makes no sense to take funding away from GP services, and instead use it in a way that will only serve as a sticking-plaster solution to an ongoing problem”.
While BMA chair Dr Mark Porter was stronger in his language, pointing towards the funding difficulties that the healthcare system already faces.
“The NHS is clearly underfunded and services are unable to keep up with rising demand, but instead of addressing this the government has chosen more stopgaps and accounting tricks over providing good services for patients in desperate need”.
Porter believes that this decision will exacerbate an already critical NHS climate.
“Taking funding from mental health, community and primary care to prop up deliberately created deficits will do nothing about the fact that most NHS trusts are in the red, our GPs are struggling to meet rising demand with inadequate resources, our hospitals don’t have enough beds and patients are waiting longer for essential care”.
An NHS England spokesman, though, asserted that the decision is not a revelation, and that in fact trusts had already been warned of this eventuality.
“As we’ve been saying since the start of the year, we set aside £800m to cover provider deficits if needed, and we do now need to. This is uncommitted money that would otherwise have been invested at the discretion of commissioners. It will be important to get the trust deficit down next year so planned investments can take place.”
Official forecasts indicate that the healthcare system will accumulate a deficit of £873 million by the end of the financial year, with the target having been £580 million.