Health Foundation: primary care in poorer areas ‘missing out’ on vital funding

The opportunity to use GPs and primary care networks to reduce health inequalities between the richest and poorest areas hasn’t been fully realised, according to new research published by the Health Foundation.

Primary care networks (PCNs) are a major vehicle for government investment in general practice, worth £2.4bn in 2023/24. However, new research shows that poorer areas in England are missing out on funding and additional primary care staff because the greater health needs of their populations are not adequately taken into account by current funding arrangements.

The Health Foundation says that the skewed funding is particularly concerning as primary care networks, which were established in 2019 to coordinate general practice and other primary care services, are also tasked with reducing health inequalities. With new funding contracts for PCNs and general practitioners currently being negotiated, the Foundation is urging NHS England to reform its funding formulas to ensure PCNs in areas of high deprivation receive the funding they need.  

General practices in the most deprived areas of England, where people experience worse health on average, could collectively benefit from an additional £18.6m a year to improve the health of patients if the funding available to them better accounted for deprivation.

The new research also found that, when increased need is accounted for, there were significantly fewer additional primary care staff, such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and care coordinators, recruited to networks in the most deprived areas compared with the least deprived areas - 6 fewer per 100,000 needs-adjusted patient.

Frontline voices reported that with improved support – and funding that properly accounts for population needs - primary care networks hold real potential for supporting patients in the most deprived areas.

Dr. Rebecca Fisher, a GP and a senior policy fellow at the Health Foundation, said: "General practice in the poorest areas, where people have the greatest health needs, is missing out on much needed funding and additional staff. Without this, the health of people in more deprived areas risks falling even further behind other parts of the country.

"People in poorer areas need to have better access to GPs and other primary care professionals. Renegotiation of primary care contracts, currently being led by NHS England, is an opportunity to address this issue." 


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