Primary Care Networks: Everything You Need To Know

Primary Care Networks

The NHS Long term plan was published in January 2019 and included the formation of Primary Care Networks (PCN’s). This is  GP Practices joining together and forming primary care networks. Such groups of neighbouring practices will typically consist of 30,000 to 50,000 people. Since July 1st there are already 1,259 PCNs covering all the patients in England.

Healthcare practices will enter network contracts alongside their existing agreements which include a single fund through which network resources will flow. Primary care networks will be expected to take a proactive approach to manage population health. From 2020/21, PCN’s will assess the needs of their local population to identify people who would benefit from targeted, proactive support.

Recap Of The NHS Long Term Plan

It aims at making the NHS fit for the future and to give patients the most value from every taxpayer’s investment into it. The NHS long term plan focuses on making sure everyone gets the best possible start in life. They want to deliver world-class care for major health problems and help people age well.

The NHS long term plan is essentially a framework for local systems to develop plans based on principles of collaboration and co-design. It works on the approach to technology in five key areas, i.e.

  • empowering people
  • supporting health and care professionals
  • supporting clinical care
  • improving population health
  • improving clinical efficiency and safety

Read a more detailed overview of the NHS long term plan on PSCNs website.

Primary Care Networks And Integrated Care Systems (ICS)

The concept behind PCN’s is broadly based on the National Association of Primary Care’s Primary Care Home (PCH) model. According to the NHS Long Term Plan, Primary Care Networks will become an integral part of every Integrated Care System.

These systems are models based on the population in terms of care. As the name suggests, it integrates primary, secondary, community and other healthcare services to create shared local responsibility for the following:

  • Manage NHS resources more efficiently to improve quality and access to care
  • Improve health outcomes while reducing inequalities in quality, access and outcomes
  • Build better partnerships with local government and other community partners
  • Provide better and more independent lives for people with complex needs
  • Create the capacity to enable the implementation of system-wide changes


Working Together For A Healthier Future

As people age, their general health and well-being may decline as many suffer from long term conditions. This includes diabetes and heart disease but also mental health disorders. Due to the increased level of care required, some people may have to access their local health services more regularly.

For the healthcare system to meet these specific needs, practices have started working together. These Primary Care Networks are expected to have a wide-reaching membership including community services, community pharmacy, dental providers, optometrists, social care providers, volunteer organisations and the local government.

Primary care networks build on the core of current primary care services and enable a greater provision of proactive, personalised, coordinated and more integrated health and social care. All in all, forming PCN’s should benefit patients, health and care providers along with the entire system.

Benefits Of Primary Care Networks To Patients

Clinicians describe this as a change from reactively providing appointments to proactively caring for people and the communities they serve. Where emerging primary care networks are in place in parts of the country, there are clear benefits for patients and clinicians.

  • They offer improved access and an extended range of available care services closer to home
  • PCNs also help integrate primary care with wider health and community services
  • Patients receive support for more complex conditions better coordinated across different health and care services
  • PCNs will allow patients to play a much greater role in making safe and informed decisions about their own health and care

While the benefits are overwhelming, general practices must work with their patient participation groups and the wider local community. They need to address the needs of their local population as some patients are concerned that continuity and trusting relationships may be lost.

How Do Primary Care Networks Benefit Healthcare Providers?

Signing up to become part of a PCN was not mandatory but with sizeable funding, the decision for many wasn’t difficult. In fact, £1.8bn of the promised £2.8bn is intended for general practice throughout the network. Some of the benefits to health and care providers include the following:

  • Funding for 20,000 more staff over the next 5 years
  • Greater stability and a happier workforce with more manageable workloads
  • More professional development opportunities thanks to multi-disciplinary teams working together
  • Opportunities to increase consistency in quality and outcomes at a local community level
  • More focus placed on prevention, self-care and population health management
  • Better targeted clinical interventions which will help keep people out of hospital

Recommended Read: ‘Broad Overview Of The Pharmacy Quality Scheme

A Glimpse Into The Future Of PCNs

NHS England is struggling to find General Practitioners and practice nurses but they do have plans to include other health professionals. Among others, these are physiotherapists, pharmacists, paramedics and physician associates. The aim is to widen the skills mix in general practice through PCNs and employ a variety of health professionals. They want to reduce the pressure on GPs and enable patients to see the professional that meets their immediate needs.

Primary Care Networks could become hubs for supporting services promoting the health of local communities. Perhaps a GP practice could offer housing support, community clubs or a gym? What about PCNs linking with local schools, charities and community activity groups? We don’t know exactly where this could take us but it is an exciting prospect nonetheless. With sufficient support and resources, PCNs could make a meaningful difference within their communities.

Final Thoughts

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs said: “Primary Care Networks are essentially groups of practices working together and aiming to work with other agencies to deliver improved care for patients – and collaboration can have great benefits, particularly at a time when general practice is facing such intense resource and workforce pressures.”

She continued to say that “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.”

In conclusion, the healthcare sector should not only embrace models of care but also deliver on promises laid out in the NHS Long-Term Plan. There also needs to be more details on how the aspirations of the interim People Plan will be achieved.

VirtualOutcomes Online Training

To offer further support for community pharmacy and other healthcare providers, VirtualOutcomes has a training module covering all the necessary information. To help understand Primary Care Networks and how it can benefit general practices and the health sector in general, visit our website. You will also be able to access all of the training modules.