This month marks the beginning of the roll-out of the NHS’ primary care networks, which were announced as a key part of the NHS Long Term Plan, with all general practices being required to be in a network by June 2019.
Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are required to commit recurrent funding to develop and maintain these PCNs.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, believes the newly-launched primary care networks have "undeniable benefits, but there is no 'one size fits all' approach to solve GP pressures".
PCNs will be based on GP registered lists, typically serving natural communities of around 30,000 to 50,000. They should be small enough to provide the personal care valued by both patients and GPs, but large enough to have impact and economies of scale through better collaboration between practices and others in the local health and social care system.
They are essentially “groups of practices working together and aiming to work with other agencies to deliver improved care for patients.”
She went on to say that “collaboration can have great benefits, particularly at a time when general practice is facing such intense resource and workforce pressures.
“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, she also stressed 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.
“It is also essential that for primary care networks to succeed, they are owned and designed by GPs and our teams - 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.”