Care networks launched to strengthen local GP care across the South West

The biggest transformation in more than a generation to the way family doctors work will be launched from today (Monday 1 July).

General practices across the South West will begin working together formally within local primary care networks (PCNs), typically serving patient populations of 30,000-50,000.

This will enable them to support each other while offering more specialist care services to patients and taking on a wider range of health professionals, such as

  • Clinical pharmacists, who can make sure patients’ medications are right
  • Nurse practitioners, who can see and treat patients independently
  • Physiotherapists, to help with recovery and mobility
  • Paramedics, who can provide urgent care at the surgery
  • Physician associates, who can, for example, take medical histories and blood pressures, complete insurance forms and explain treatments, freeing up the GP
  • Social prescribing support workers, to help address non-clinical issues such as isolation and provide a more-holistic approach to care

This approach is designed to free up time for GPs, so they can focus more on supporting patients with the greatest needs and the most-complex conditions.

PCNs are a key plank in the NHS Long Term Plan for improving services, published earlier this year. They will bring billions of pounds in extra investment nationwide to sustain general practice in the short term and to improve access and care in the longer term.

As from today, there are 129 PCNs across the nine clinical commissioning group areas in the South West:

  Total PCNs
Bath and North East Somerset 5
Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire 18
Cornwall & Isles of Scilly 14
Devon 31
Dorset 18
Gloucestershire 14
Somerset 13
Swindon 5
Wiltshire 11

All have appointed clinical directors – including some nurses and pharmacists as well as GPs – to lead work across the member practices.

It will take time for new services and staffing structures to evolve, with today marking a formal starting point rather than a fully-formed system. Of the small number of practices that have not so far joined, most are also expecting to become part of a PCN in the near future.

Patients do not need to do anything differently – just continue using your own surgery as usual.

Ian Biggs, Director of Primary Care and Public Health for NHS England and NHS Improvement in the South West, said: “This is a really significant day for GP care in the South West. We already know the sorts of advantages that big practices can offer for patients, with a wider range of staff and services. Now smaller practices will be able to do much the same, working to support each other while retaining their independence.

“PCNs will also bring extra money into the system, at a time when many surgeries have been struggling with rising workloads.

“We know the South West has some of the best primary care in the country. This is a great opportunity to make it even better. Things won’t change instantly, but over time we expect patients to reap real benefits.”

Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS England’s Acting Medical Director for Primary Care, added: “We’re delighted with the enthusiasm shown across the country with GPs, local medical committees and commissioners working together to establish primary care networks.

“Of around 7,000 practices across England, 99.7% have joined a PCN with just a handful opting out. It’s a game-changer and signals the start of a new era for general practice.”