£50m Challenge Fund to increase access to GPs labelled 'political gimmick' by top doctor


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Indy Lifestyle Online

David Cameron’s pledge to improve weekend and evening GP access has been called a “political gimmick” after it emerged many of the pilot schemes have yet to begin, nearly a year after the policy was announced.

The Prime Minister’s £50m Challenge Fund to support GPs opening longer and providing more telephone and internet consultations was launched along with a wave of publicity at the Conservative Party Conference in autumn last year.

In April it was announced that 7.5m patients at 1,000 GP practices in 20 areas would benefit from pilot schemes, some of which were scheduled to begin as early as May.

However, out of seven pilot areas surveyed by Pulse magazine, only two said that their scheme was up and running.

Funding for the pilots was due to run out in April next year, but NHS England said that in areas some it would continue for longer.

The Challenge Fund has been criticised by many doctors as inadequate to sure up GP services which are under severe strain from rising patient numbers and falling budgets.

Dr Richard Morley, from the British Medical Association’s GP committee, told Pulse that the fund had been “a political gimmick”.

“Here we are, nearly half way through the year of the pilots – if nothing is happening then it puts some of these pilots at risk,” he said. “We do not need these one-off soundbites, for the benefit of politicians rather than patients, but proper long-term recurrent investment.”

A spokesperson for NHS England said that work was underway on delivering all of the pilots and that in many areas patients were already benefitting.