NHS England has warned primary care networks (PCNs) they may lose any funding they do not spend on recruiting additional roles this year.
In a letter to practices and networks sent on Tuesday (11 August), NHS England said that commissioners must support all their PCNs to ‘use their allocation of funding’ so that it is not ‘lost to general practice’.
The 2020/21 additional roles reimbursement scheme offers £340 million to PCNs to cover 100% of the costs to employ new staff from a pool of clinicians, such as occupational therapists, dieticians and pharmacy technicians – and NHS England revealed nursing associates are also expected to be included from October.
But last year many PCNs faced difficulties hiring new staff under the scheme and NHS England suggested in its letter that this year’s round of recruitment has been ‘delayed due to the initial pandemic response’.
PCNs may ‘over-recruit’ for the final six to nine months of the year if recruitment has been stalled due to Covid-19, so that they ‘use their full funding allocation’, the letter said.
However, under this year’s GP contract, it states CCGs may use their discretion to share any leftover additional roles funding with other PCNs if there is a ‘significant’ amount left unspent.
Despite this, NHS England’s letter yesterday stressed GPs may lose the funding and said commissioners must agree a plan with their NHS England regional team by 30 September to ‘enable their PCNs to draw down as much of their share of ARRS funding for 2020/21 as possible’.
The letter, to GP practices and commissioners, said: ‘Every CCG has a responsibility to help all their PCNs recruit, supporting them to use their allocation of funding and get their share of the additional roles in place.
‘This will minimise the proportion of the available £430 million which PCNs will not draw down and will be lost to general practice.‘
Meanwhile, NHS England’s letter added that nursing associates will be added to the additional roles reimbursement scheme from 1 October to ‘provide additional flexibility to PCNs now’, subject to agreement from the chief nursing officer.
Under this year’s update to the GP contract, PCNs are entitled to 100% reimbursement for any of 11 additional clinical staff roles recruited from April 2020.
The contract said that ‘as part of the DES, all PCNS will be expected to seek to utilise 100% of their available funding [and] CCGs will be placed under a corresponding duty to support their PCNs in doing so’.
It said: ‘GPC England and NHS England are clear that the additional roles funding should be fully used each year, rather than lost to general practice.’
However, it added: ‘If a CCG judges there still remains a likelihood of significant unspent entitlement, even after inviting community partners to propose joint or rotational posts, the CCG will be expected to share funding across PCNs.
‘It is neither desirable nor expected that redistribution will be necessary on a widespread basis, but it is better than the alternative of funding being lost to general practice.’
NHS England first set out that CCGs should redistribute unused ARRS funding to neighbouring PCNs in guidance published last year.
In February, it announced that PCNs that struggled to recruit into additional roles were permitted to start recruitment of the next round of staff using their unspent ARRS funding from 2019/20.
GPs previously warned that they had struggled to recruit – with only around half of PCNs managing to recruit clinical pharmacists and social prescribers last year.
Under the network DES arrangements, funding will be unlocked to employ 26,000 additional practice staff by 2023/24.
A version of this story was first published by our sister title Pulse.