NHS England announces overwhelming take up of new primary care network contract

Millions of patients across the country are set to continue to benefit from additional action to spot cancer early, joined up care for patients with chronic disease, extra NHS support for care homes residents and easier access to medication reviews thanks to additional investment in family doctors and their teams.

Almost all GP practices in England have signed up to the new Primary Care Network (PCN) contract for the next year, meaning they will receive a share of half a billion pounds a year of extra investment to employ more staff and deliver more services in or near to people’s homes – a total investment of £1.4 billion by 23/24 to help deliver an extra 26,000 workforce roles.

Primary care has been at the forefront of the NHS response to coronavirus pandemic and has accelerated the transformation of services first set out in the NHS Long Term Plan last year.

For example by providing resilience where staff have been absent, provide remote consultations, enabling collaborative arrangements for coronavirus assessment hubs, and enabling a cross GP, pharmacy and community services multi-disciplinary team approach to supporting care homes.

The new agreement between GPs and the NHS will deliver improved care for patients, including:

  • Additional support for care home residents – clinicians will carry out weekly check ins to care homes and each PCN will have a clinical lead for care homes in their area. Already, as part of general practice’s response to the COVID pandemic, 100% of care homes now have an identified clinical lead with over 99% of practices now incorporating weekly care home resident check ins.
  • More clinical pharmacists – helping people taking multiple or complex medications (polypharmacy) receive regular structured medication reviews to ensure their medication works better for them.
  • Improved early cancer diagnosis – as part of the NHS Long Term Plan ambition to save more lives by improving early cancer diagnosis rates, PCNs will improve the referral process, increase screening uptake, and to better understand local populations and what they can do to support earlier cancer diagnosis.

Doctors, nurses, and frontline clinicians will benefit with increased numbers of staff in general practice. As part of the reformed Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme, NHS England and NHS Improvement will reimburse 100% staff salaries of ten additional general practice roles such as clinical pharmacists, physiotherapists, physician associates, dieticians and health and wellbeing coaches to help provide patients with the care they need by an appropriate specialist.

NHS medical director for primary care and a London GP Nikki Kanani said:“Many have already benefited from improved care thanks to the commitment of general practice staff to work in collaboration locally: people get the care they need with the right professional, and clinicians such as GPs get greater support and increased numbers of frontline staff working in practices.

“The determination from everyone to put general practice on a stronger footing so that it can deliver the services patients need has been extremely encouraging – we benefited from extensive engagement with the proposals on this and I’m pleased that we can now move forward together and deliver on our shared goals to provide extra support for practices that need it, large or small.

“I’d like to thank all general practice staff for their hard work to get primary care to this point.”

Ruth Rankine, director of the NHS Confederation’s PCN Network, said: “This is great news for primary care and for patients. PCNs are absolutely key to delivering the ambitions of the NHS Long Term Plan, ensuring that patients, irrespective of where they live, get access to the same services whilst giving PCNs the flexibility to respond to the needs of their local population.”

The near total (98%) uptake reflects support for PCNs which are helping improve care for patients across the country.

The new contract will help build on the success of PCNs, which have been in operation for nearly a year in some areas.

Around 7,000 practices across England came together to form 1,250 PCNs.

PCNs are about bringing local GP practices together and pooling resources to deliver the best care possible for patients working with local health and care organisations.

Traditionally visiting a GP practice would mean someone seeing their GP, yet up to a third of GP appointments do not need to be with a family doctor, this can delay people getting the care they need whilst also leading to an increased workload for GPs.

Somebody with a bad back for example, rather than seeing a GP and then potentially waiting for a referral to a physiotherapist, thanks to PCNs would see a physiotherapist as their initial point of contact, getting them faster care while also freeing up GP time.

This is why in addition to recruiting more GPs, the NHS Long Term Plan is investing in more social prescribing link workers, clinical pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals to work in general practice – ensuring when people get the care they need when they visit their local GP practice.