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Now or never - GP practices can no longer wait for GP Forward View funding

Now or never - GP practices can no longer wait for GP Forward View funding

Technology has long been considered an enabler to fulfilling rising patient expectations and alleviating workforce pressures which are close to breaking point.

The GP Forward View, published in April 2016, pledged to provide £40 million of funding over four years (until 2020) to transform GP premises and IT efficiencies. 

To demonstrate its commitment, NHS England has invested £80 million more in general practice last year than it had originally planned. This has included payments for information management and technology, which accounted for approximately 29% of the overall growth in investment.

However, tangible progress remains sluggish and the measurable impact is difficult to quantify, particularly given that GP practices have seen a sharp increase in written complaints from patients in the past 12 months.

It's hardly surprising then that leading health think tank, the King's Fund, has questioned how much of the GP Forward View's increased investment is actually reaching frontline services.

Despite NHS England's optimism, evidence suggests that hundreds of struggling GP practices are not receiving the funding they need, when they need it.

Cyber security - the clock is ticking

Many practices require funding to carry out much needed building refurbishments, surgery expansions and gain access to modern technology.

But the escalating threat of cybercrime means they must also invest in safeguarding their IT security infrastructures which are being compromised by out-of-date operating systems and lax network controls to prevent a damaging future attack.

According to a recently released report by the National Audit Office, around 600 GP practices were affected by the 'WannaCry' cyberattack in May which demanded a ransom payment to unlock hacked IT systems. The impact was considerable.

19,500 medical appointments are estimated to have been cancelled and five hospitals had to divert ambulances as a consequence of being unable to access their computer networks.

Due to the risk of sensitive patient data being disclosed, GPs will recognise the serious implications of cybercrime.

 The impact of dwindling budgets though has made it exceedingly difficult for them to sustain investment in IT security, at a time when the scale and complexity of attacks are evolving. Flexible and tailored finance solutions from specialist providers such as Wesleyan Bank, can help.

They enable GP practices to purchase and implement sophisticated intrusion prevention solutions before they are required to start paying towards the cost of software and associated support and maintenance services.

When it comes to thwarting cybercrime, staff training and awareness are as equally important as robust IT systems. Bespoke and unsecured financial loans allow practices to invest in going security awareness training and external audits which can identify potential IT network vulnerabilities and recommend remedial action.

Additionally, specialist finance solution providers, including Wesleyan's General Insurance division, offer cyber insurance covering loss in the event of a data breach.

The future of technology is here today

Advancements in general practice have accelerated in recent years due to the introduction of new technology. Examples include a GP practice situated in Greater Manchester using speech recognition software to process clinical documents and speed-up the transcription of doctors' notes.

By reducing time-consuming administration, the practice is now able to treat four more patients each day and the secretarial team has been freed-up to concentrate on more value-added tasks.

Furthermore, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology has been developed to facilitate online GP consultations for minor ailments which could eventually save £2bn per year by reducing face-to-face appointments.

The new AI digital platform provides an engaging, interactive service to enable patients to make an informed choice regarding their self-treatment. The system comes with built in red flags which can detect any concerning symptoms and immediately advise the patient to seek further assistance.

Spreading the cost of IT investments

While the possibilities appear endless, GPs face the conundrum of how to keep up with emerging technology and services that patients demand due to the level of ongoing funding that is needed. Tailored asset finance solutions include funding for a wide range of medical technology and specialist equipment, including IT software, hardware and associated services.

As a result, practices do not have to dip into vital cash reserves and attempt to purchase new items upfront. In doing so, they can spread the cost (usually over one to five years) to preserve essential working capital while maintaining their existing banking lines.

Wesleyan Bank is also able to negotiate best value by liaising with medical equipment vendors on a practice manager's behalf, allowing them to concentrate on running their business to boost productivity and attract new patients.

Alternative finance solutions may not represent a magic wand to solve all of the challenges practices face today. But they could make a vital difference in helping GPs to minimise the impact of rising funding pressures, a longstanding issue which the GP Forward View may ultimately fail to address.

'WESLEYAN’ is a trading name of the Wesleyan Group of companies.

Wesleyan Assurance Society and Wesleyan Bank Ltd are authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. Wesleyan Financial Services Ltd, Wesleyan Unit Trust Managers Ltd, Practice Plan Ltd and DPAS Ltd are authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.  Advice about investments, insurance and mortgages is provided by Wesleyan Financial Services Ltd.

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