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NHS England to stop national funding for GPN retention scheme

National funding for an initiative that supports the education and development of general practice nurses (GPNs) in England will stop after March 2024, it has been announced.

NHS England said this week that it would no longer centrally fund the General Practice Fellowship programme and associated schemes.

As a result, future funding decisions for the programme could now be down to the discretion of regional integrated care boards (ICBs) instead.

GPN leaders have criticised the move, warning that it could lead to “unwarranted variation” in the availability and funding of GPN education in the future.

“Recruitment and retention could decline back to the pre-GPN fellowship era”

Crystal Oldman

The General Practice Fellowship programme was a national commitment announced in the NHS Long Term Plan in 2019 and was restated in the 2020 update to the GP contract.

The two-year programme of support, learning and development is available to nurses new to general practice, with an explicit focus on working within and across a primary care network (PCN).

Participants are offered funded continuing professional development opportunities, as well as rotational placements across PCNs.

Until now, the scheme was nationally funded by NHS England, with an understanding that a decision would be made during the 2023-24 financial year about the future of the fellowship funding.

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Last week, NHS England announced in its latest primary care bulletin that it would stop funding the fellowship and associated schemes by 31 March 2024.

The bulletin, seen by Nursing Times, said that GPNs who joined the scheme before the cut-off date would “continue to be supported until they complete their two-year programme”.

It added that NHS England would also continue to invest in general practice retention in 2024-25 and that more information and guidance would follow this year.

But Dr Crystal Oldman, chief executive for the Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI), said the announcement from NHS England was “unexpected and with short notice of the change”.

The QNI has been closely involved with all the GPN education frameworks in England.

The organisation supported the inception of the Staffordshire General Practice Nursing Foundation School, which is one place currently running the GPN fellowship programme.

Dr Oldman warned that the latest announcement would negatively impact schools like Staffordshire, as they may have to look elsewhere for funding to continue GPN education.

Crystal Oldman

Crystal Oldman

“I understand that the funding will no longer be available centrally via NHS England and any continuance of similar GPN education be at the discretion of the local ICBs,” she said.

“This could potentially lead to unwarranted variation in the availability and funding of GPN education, including the work of the GPN foundation school, and recruitment and retention could decline back to the pre-GPN fellowship era.”

However, Dr Oldman noted that there was “a plethora of evidence” of the benefits of the GPN fellowship in recruiting and retaining registered nurses in general practice.

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She said she hoped this would make “continuing the funding via an ICB irresistible to the commissioners”.

NHS England was contacted for further information.

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