Primary care networks that struggled to recruit into additional roles are allowed to start recruitment of the next round of staff using their unspent ARRS funding from this year, NHS England has said.
Commissioners are ‘encouraged’ to release unspent funding under the 2019/20 additional roles reimbursement scheme (ARRS) so that PCNs can receive 100% reimbursement for any appointments to the ten roles under this year’s scheme, effective immediately, NHS England said.
But PCN leaders suggested that this may not mean much in practice.
Under the new GP contract, PCNs are to receive 100% reimbursement for all additional clinical staff – expanded to include pharmacy technicians, care co-ordinators, health coaches, dietitians, podiatrists and occupational therapists – recruited from April 2020.
Previously, networks were to receive 70% of the funding to employ a pharmacist, a paramedic, a physiotherapist and a physician associate, and 100% of the funding for a hiring social prescriber, by 2023/24.
In a letter to primary care leaders and CCGs, NHS England director of primary care strategy and NHS contracts Ed Waller said that PCNs should be enabled to hire ‘now’ into any of ten roles included in the ARRS from 1 April 2020 at 100% reimbursement where ARRS underspend is ‘likely’.
However, unspent funding should not be used to increase reimbursement for staff recruited before 17 February, he added.
Mr Waller said: ‘For 2019/20, we are aware that some commissioners are forecasting an underspend on their Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme funding (as a result of PCNs failing to draw down their full entitlement), even after having considered use of a local scheme to share unused financial entitlements across the PCNs in the area.
‘Where underspend is likely in respect of the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme, NHS England encourages commissioners to use this unspent entitlement to enable PCNs to recruit now to any of the ten roles which will be included in the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme from 1 April 2020.’
He added: ‘Whilst we would not recommend using this flexibility to increase the rate of reimbursement for existing staff, commissioners are encouraged to reimburse any new appointments from 17 February at 100% of salary and employer ‘on-costs’, up to the maximum reimbursable amounts for each role.'
The roles would then become eligible for reimbursement under the ARRS scheme from 1 April 2020, without any changes to their terms and conditions, Mr Waller added.
Commissioners may also choose to use the unspent funding to ‘support PCN recruitment exercises’, Mr Waller said.
He said: ‘We hope this flexibility provides the impetus for PCNs to move forward swiftly to recruit additional staff, supporting them to use their funding entitlement for 2020/21 and delivering the associated benefits for general practice sustainability and services for patients.’
However, Dr Geetha Chandrasekaran, clinical director of North Halifax PCN and partner at Plane Trees Group Practice, told Pulse that although it's a 'good enough gesture', the change does not mean a lot practically.
She said: 'It's already almost the end of February and the recruitment process doesn't happen overnight.
'It's a good enough gesture and apparently we can use some of the underspent monies on recruitment as well, so I'm in favour of that, but it doesn't really practically mean that people will be able to recruit in that amount of time.
She added: 'Even if we did a short recruitment process, it would be a week maybe that you'd have them in post before 1 April. If you had got somebody lined up and you just want to recruit directly, that's different, but you'd still have to go through a process.
'I don't think it means a lot practically.'
It comes as Pulse revealed that only around half of PCNs had managed to recruit clinical pharmacists and social prescribers last year.