GPs in Devon will get QOF income protection through winter to support practices through ‘worst ever’ winter pressures.
It comes after the LMC told local NHS leaders that the demand on local practices was the worst they had ever seen.
Dr Bruce Hughes from the medical executive team at Devon LMC said the vast majority of practices had been reporting black or red alert to their GP Alert system (GPAS).
Pressures are particularly acute in the north of the county where 11 of 15 practices had reported a black alert this week, he said.
At a webinar earlier this month about group A strep, questions were about what more could be done to support practices and it seems like the ICB had listened, he added.
A bulletin sent out to GPs across the county from the ICB last week (14 December) outlined a series of ‘immediate actions’ that had been put in place that would support general practice through to the end of March.
The ICB said it would income protect QOF for 2022/23 to enable practices to use their clinical judgement on how best to prioritise workload and workforce ‘without concerns around the potential financial impact’.
This would support practices to provide more urgent care provision than would otherwise be the case, the bulletin said.
‘We will discuss specific mechanisms by which to deliver this with the [Devon Collaborative Boards] and Local Medical Committee (LMC), and expect them to be in line with those applied previously during pandemic-related QOF protection,’ the ICB said.
In addition, the ICB said it was considering a Devon-funded Winter Access Scheme, which would ‘differentially support practices in the most deprived areas’.
Practices will also be given greater flexibility in how they deliver enhanced access sessions to better match the additional capacity needed to days and times of peak demand and enhanced services were being reviewed.
Jane Milligan, chief executive of NHS Devon, said in the bulletin: ‘I hope the immediate measures go some way to ensuring you that we are taking your concerns and current pressures extremely seriously.’
Dr Hughes said: ‘This is a local arrangement that has been borne of general practice in Devon saying we are at breaking point.’
But he added it should not be left to ICBs to put measures in place when the pressures facing practices in Devon were being repeated around the country.
‘NHS England is hanging us out to dry at the moment. There’s no leniency, pragmatism or support. They should be the ones recognising this dire situation.
‘Group A strep is the thing that has broken the camels back. It’s very odd that we have local commissioners who are table to take a bold decision but national commissioners won’t protect us. I am really pleased that local commissioners have understood how bad the situation is.’
Devon LMC had pioneered the GPAS system, which is now being rolled out by LMCs across England to provide data to local health systems on the pressures in primary care.
Earlier this year the LMC agreed a pilot with the ICS to assess how to respond when practices are under ‘severe’, ‘extreme’ or ‘intolerable’ pressure.
In October, practices in Northern Ireland that are ‘in difficulty’ were told they have the option of asking for a freeze to QOF reporting.