The government will extend its £50m primary care Challenge Fund by a further £100m, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced.
Speaking at the Conservative Party conference yesterday, Hunt said the Challenge Fund, launched late last year by Prime Minister David Cameron will be extended to reach “millions more people.”
The fund aims to improve access to primary care through extended opening hours, seven day working, email, phone and Skype consultations.
Hunt also announced that every patient in England will get a named GP, “accountable” for their care.
This policy was introduced for people over the age of 75 last year, alongside a pledge to make it easier for those with complex conditions to access support services.
Guidance from the BMA, NHS England and NHS Employers has since urged GP practices to carry out risk stratification to identify the 2% of their patient populations most at risk of unplanned admission to hospital, and to make sure they are actively case managed.
Patients identified through this major expansion of risk profiling – which uses population data to try and identify those who would benefit from targeted interventions – will also be given access to an “ex-directory or bypass number” to A&E, ambulance or other out-of-hours services.
“I understand the pressures that general practice is facing with an ageing population, but we want to make sure that all patients get personalised care, tailored to their physical and mental health needs, supporting people to live healthier lives,” Hunt said.
Both the Labour and Conservative parties have sought to make NHS pledges during their conferences; with Labour particularly keen to make the health service an election issue.
Last week, Labour leader Ed Miliband promised to create a ‘Time to Care Fund’ to “save and transform” the NHS, paid for out of a “mansion tax”, a crack down on tax avoidance, and a levy on tobacco firms.
Health secretary Andy Burnham followed up with more specific plans for integrated care and access to a GP within 48 hours.
In his speech today, Cameron is also expected to promise to "protect" NHS funding for the five years of the next Parliament, having trailed his own promises about access to GPs in the Sunday papers.
Cameron told the press that “everyone will have access to a family doctor seven days a week by the end of the decade.”
Hunt’s speech effectively spelled out the details of this pledge. The £100m extension of the GP Challenge Fund, which was initially supposed to pay for evaluated pilots, will mean that “innovative practices” can bid for the money by demonstrating initiatives to improve patient access, he said.
Other initiatives flagged by Hunt at the conference include giving patients online access to “more detailed information from their patient records” and making sure that “a larger proportion of appointments will be available to book online.”
The new GP contract for 2014-15, which came into force on 1 April, makes it a contractual requirement for GPs to “promote and offer a facility for patients to book, view, amend, cancel and print appointments online” over the year.
It also makes it a contractual requirement for GPs to “promote and offer the facility for patients who wish to order online, view and print a list of their repeat prescriptions for necessary drugs, medicines or appliances.”
The contract’s requirements on records access are less stringent. When it took power, the government promised that patients would have access to their full medical records online by April 2015.
This was scaled back to access to GP records, then access to a subset of the GP record – the information in the Summary Care Record – and then published plans for access by the end of March 2015.
However, in his speech yesterday, Hunt said: “By April next year, every patient in England will be able to access their own medical record online", adding: "The boss isn’t the doctor, it’s you.”
EHI reported in August this year that, according to the latest published figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, only 4% of patients currently have access to their GP records online.
The new GP contract gave practices until yesterday (30 September) to publish a plan for meeting the latest requirements by the 31 March deadline.