NHS England has stated that just over 2,000 practices in England have received money, support or both under the practice resilience programme and its predecessor the vulnerable practice programme.
NHS England’s head of general practice development Dr Robert Varnam has conceded that the performance of the vulnerable practice scheme has been rather disappointing in much of the country.
But Varnam also asserted that money, resources and support were beginning to filter through to practices, and that this will hopefully have an impact in the foreseeable future.
The Royal College of General Practitioners have been strongly critical on the progress of delivering the practice resilience programme.
Indeed, a report by the college on the GP Forward View found that by the end of the 2016 calendar year only £2.5 million of of the £16 million practice resilience fund available had actually been spent.
The Royal College described this figure as “extremely disappointing”.
Responding to criticism, the aforementioned Varnam stated that progress had been slow because “of the time it took for people to agree their plans and the hard stop of the end of the financial year meant people were racing to come up with plans.”
Varnam also suggested that the embryonic nature of the scheme meant that it has taken people involved “longer to get their head around it, agree a plan and sign up for a plan”.
Nonetheless, the eminent doctor was encouraged that practices are generally making “some pretty savvy decisions about what to spend the money on. When the idea was announced there were some concerns expressed that people might use this as a short-term sticking plaster solution – use all their money to get extra nursing or GP time to fill a gap and they might not think beyond a few months”.
In some small practices, the impact of long-term sickness has been mitigated against by funding being utilised in order to cover stuff absence.
Varnam asserted that this had made a real difference in numerous cases.
And Varnam suggested that an open dialogue is now taking place among practices, with many surgeries discussing plans with neighbouring organisations or LMCs in an attempt to use funding more constructively.
“The big areas practices have been investing in are diagnostics. So getting an expert to measure their caseload and look at how much of it GPs are seeing that could be seen by someone else. Or looking at how much a practice individually spends on recruitment or accountancy, or how much time a month is being spent on payroll – areas where practices could collaborate to instantly free up some time,” Varnam asserted.