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Why GPs cannot afford to rely on the Government's latest funding promise

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The Government's recently announced 'transformation plan' for general practice in England has been met with scepticism by senior medical figures, politicians and patients alike. But almost all agree that if the NHS is to succeed in improving efficiency and shifting more care from secondary into primary care settings, major investment is required to enhance GP premises which underpin the essential changes that are needed.

The pledge by NHS chiefs to plough £2.4bn a year into GP services by 2020-21 represents a welcome 14% rise in funding and has been earmarked to pay for more GPs and extra staff to boost practices. Efforts to address the inadequacy of GP premises have been attempted before with mixed results. A point which Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the British Medical Association's (BMA) General Practice Committee, was keen to stress when highlighting:

"The promise to allocate £250 million annually from 2015/16 to improve GP premises was supposed to address this fundamental problem. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground is that the scheme has been fraught with delays and administrative hurdles, with large numbers of promised improvements to GP practices across the country yet to start."

So, what is the reality on the ground?

According to previous research conducted by the BMA, more than half of GP practices have not seen significant refurbishment to their premises since 2004. Three in five practices said their doctors have to share consulting rooms, and of these, half conceded this restricts treatment. In addition the Westminster Health Forum Conference, 'The future of Primary Care in England', in March suggested that as many as 5,000 GP surgeries require modification to their premises to carry out improvements.

NHS chiefs' latest funding gesture may not be the magic wand that it appears. An investigation by Pulse last November discovered that GPs were deprived of millions of pounds when NHS England revoked previous premises commitments. At least 11 practices in the South West were told that they were no longer going to receive money for refurbishment work to begin, despite having previously been given 'approval to proceed' five months prior. Will the rug get pulled again?

External finance arguably offers a safer and far quicker guarantee for GP practices who are struggling to find funding for much needed premises investment. Specialist providers, such as Wesleyan Bank, provide commercial loans specifically for GPs. Asset finance solutions in particular can be used for refurbishments, practice development and for investing in the latest equipment to ensure better services for patients.

Commercial loans also offer GPs further peace of mind with the ability to spread payments over time, lessening the impact of hefty tax bills. In turn this helps to boost day-to-day cash flow which can be committed for further investment, transforming the future of a surgery and enabling them to compete with larger private healthcare practices.

At a time when increased responsibility is falling on general practice to meet patient needs, external finance can be the difference to allowing GP premises to be fit for purpose without them having to rely on the lottery of Government funding. Commercial loans can also assist practices to remain sustainable in the future and formulate an achievable business plan, whatever the economic climate.

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