Primary Care Networks go live today
Author: Mark Gould
NHS England says Primary Care Networks (PCN), which launched today, will mean that patients get longer appointments with their GP thanks to new ways of working.
Around 7,000 practices across England – more than 99% – have come together to form more than 1,200 PCNs where GPs are recruiting multi-disciplinary teams, including pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing support workers, freeing up GPs to focus on the sickest patients.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, says that working in networks should allow general practices to pool clinical and administrative resources, as well as making it easier to introduce truly multi-disciplinary teams.
"Ultimately it should help to free up GPs' time to spend with patients who need us most, and improve access to more integrated services for our communities.
"However, there is no 'one size fits all' approach to resolving the pressures facing general practice, and while structural reorganisation like this can be positive for surgeries with sufficient resources, others will need a lot more support and time to develop.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said that for PCNs to succeed, it is vital that they are owned and designed by GPs and their teams, and are "not subject to top-down imposition from commissioners".
"We are part of our local communities and are best-placed to understand our patient populations and their needs.
"As well as embracing new models of care, we need to see the other promises laid out in the NHS Long Term Plan delivered in full, and more detail about how the aspirations in the interim People Plan will be achieved, as soon as possible."
NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Strengthening general practice is a central part of the Long Term Plan, and Primary Care Networks have the potential to bring about the biggest improvement for a generation.
“As the PCNs get up and running in the coming weeks and months, patients will begin to see the benefits, freeing up GPs to focus on the sickest.
“This new way of working allows us to keep all that’s best about British general practice, while future-proofing it for the decade ahead.”
The NHS Long Term Plan will see funding for primary medical and community care increase as a share of the NHS budget for the first time in the health service’s 70-year history, with an extra £4.5 billion a year invested by 2023. Additional funding from the five-year GP Contract agreed with the British Medical Association (BMA) at the end of January includes £1.8 billion to fund the recruitment of 20,000 more specialist health care staff to support general practices. This builds on the increase of more than 5,000 extra practice staff working with GPs over the past four years.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair said: “It is impressive to see how quickly GP practices across England have responded to the contract changes negotiated between ourselves and NHS England just a few months ago, with over 99% now being part of a Primary Care Network.
“With recurrent funding this should support the recruitment of over 20,000 additional people to work directly in practices as part of our healthcare teams.
“It means a pharmacist in every practice, not only reducing GP workload but also improving the quality of care. It will mean connecting patients with physiotherapists directly rather than having to wait for months for a referral, and it means social prescribers helping to meet the needs of those who are lonely and connecting them with others in the community.
“With GPs leading the development of a reinvigorated primary and community healthcare team we are not only starting to tackle the pressures of workload levels, but we are also enabling GPs to focus more time on those who need us most.”