NHS England has announced the launch of a new five-year contract for general practice across England, which will see billions of pounds of extra investment for improved access to family doctors, expanded services at local practices and longer appointments for patients who need them.

It is the first major pillar of implementing the long-awaited NHS Long Term Plan, aiming to fund an army of 20,000 more staff to help GP practices work together as part of a local ‘primary care network’, building on the increase of 5,000 extra practice staff working with GPs over the past four years. Core funding increases will also support more practice nurses and GPs, with the number of young doctors choosing to train as GPs now at a record high, the group said.

"This five-year deal unarguably represents the biggest boost to primary care in more than fifteen years, giving patients more convenient services at their local GP surgery while breaking down the divide between family doctors and community health services," said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.

"It provides the practical foundation for the big service improvements in the NHS Long Term Plan. Patients across England – in towns, villages and cities – will all begin to see the benefits, beginning this year. And it allows us to keep all that’s best about British general practice while future-proofing it for the decade ahead.”

Dr Graham Jackson, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners (NHSCC) is hoping that the plan will “stabilise the future of primary care”, but also cautioned that we “need to be careful that some of the timings and processes set out will not place undue pressure on the system”.

The NHSCC has sent a letter, co-signed by NHS Clinical Commissioners, NHS Confederation and National Association of Primary Care, to a wide range of representative bodies, asking them to come together to explore practical steps to support the new networks.

He further commented: “Today’s announcements outline a potentially very exciting future for primary care and one that will be changing rapidly over the next few months. Clinical commissioners will be instrumental in supporting the ongoing development of primary care networks working with colleagues to make these changes happen and get the best outcomes for patients.

“As a GP and a clinical commissioner I am really pleased to see a cogent and substantial boost for PCNs and the potential they have to support resilience in primary care. It makes absolute sense to share and provide services over a larger footprint than just a single practice, this will lead to a better range of services delivering care closer to home.”

Hopefully within five years over 2.5 million more people will benefit from social prescribing, a personal health budget, and new support for managing their own health and care.