Doctors are calling for funding for reforms to tackle health inequalities in England

Ministers must ‘radically’ reform the way GP funding is allocated across the country as it leaves the poorest areas with inadequate healthcare, GPs have warned.

The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) wrote in an open letter that the Carr-Hill formula, used since 2004 to allocate basic GP funding, is outdated because it does not fairly distribute resources and has consequently contributed to widening health inequities across the country.

They said the formula, used to determine how much money is allocated to each GP practice for each patient, does not adequately take into account the poverty levels in a local area. Previous research has found that for every 10% increase in a practice’s poverty level, payments increased by only 0.06%. Furthermore, GP practices in areas with the highest poverty rates have an average of 300 more patients per GP than those in affluent areas.

The letter, with co-signatories including the Health Foundation, the NHS Confederation’s Primary Care Network and the charity National Voices, added that “practices in the areas of greatest hardship tend to produce patients with more complex needs, yet receive proportionate funding to meet these additional needs.”

The letter comes after an earlier analysis by The Guardian found that areas in England with the largest proportion of ethnic minorities live have the worst access to GPs, with experts attributing this disparity to the same outdated model used to fund to decide.

The RCGP called on the government to make a “radical change” in the financing of general practices, to allow funds to be channeled to areas of greatest need and to “better take into account the needs of different communities”. They said this change was essential to tackling the current health inequalities that exist across England.

Prof. Kamila Hawthorne, chair of the RCGP, said a review of funding structures was essential to ensure “the communities hardest hit by rising hardship get the support they need.

“GPs have seen the gap between the health of our richest and poorest patients widen in recent years. We have seen that the devastating health consequences that poverty and deprivation have on them are made worse by the ongoing cost of living crisis. GPs report spending more time treating problems directly linked to poverty, such as obesity, drugs and alcohol. abuse and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”

She added: “Currently we are failing to allocate resources appropriately and our most vulnerable patients are being hit hardest. GPs and their teams across the country are facing enormous pressures on resources and workforces, but this is being felt even more acutely in economically deprived areas. Where people live should not determine what care they have access to and receive.”

Jacob Lant, the chief executive of National Voices, said it was clear that GP practices working in the poorest areas were “getting less money and having fewer doctors”.

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Lant said, “As a result, the patients they serve struggle to get the care they need, exacerbating the health disparities they already experience due to lower employment rates, poorer housing and other factors.

He added: “Resources for GPs must be designed to properly reflect the needs of their local communities. This requires a review of funding formulas and mechanisms to ensure that money flows go where it is needed most and where it will help close the huge gap we see in healthy life expectancy in this country.”

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.