What are Primary Care Networks?
You might have heard about Primary Care Networks – or PCNs – but what exactly are they, and what do they do for patients?
2019 Changes in the NHS
The NHS designed the plan to combat the increased demand in the health service, low satisfaction, and growing inequality of access in the health service.
The new GP contract added formal collaboration between practices, with additional funding available to those who chose to work together.
In practical terms, by 2023/24 this will mean an increase of £978 million per year to core GP funding and the addition of 20,000 new healthcare professionals.
How PCNs work
PCNs are groups of GP practices, usually sharing a geographic area or with a previously existing collaborative relationship. Typically, each PCN will cover around 30,000 to 50,000 patients registered with the practices within the network.
In our network, North Gosforth, we currently have five-member practices – Brunton Park, Gosforth Memorial, Park Medical Group, Regent Medical Centre, and Broadway Medical Centre. This will change to four when Regent and Broadway merge later this year.
Each network is run by a Clinical Director – usually a GP from one of the practices – and a board with representatives of each GP surgery. Together they decide how to use the funding given to the network.
Our Clinical Director is Dr Rae, a GP Partner at Brunton Park.
This autonomy is central to how PCNs can locally improve health inequalities and outcomes in their areas. Networks have the freedom to recruit specialist staff to offer specific services from which their patients would most benefit.
The needs of patients in Gosforth or Jesmond will be different from those of patients in other parts of Newcastle or other cities or regions. The PCN model gives networks the freedom to focus on the staff and services that will significantly improve the health of their patient population.
New specialists such as Clinical Pharmacists, Physiotherapists, Dietitians and Paramedics work across all the network’s practices, providing a share of a service that individual practices wouldn’t be able to deliver on their own.
How PCNs help patients and GP practices
The NHS saw year on year increases in demand for nearly a decade, even before the covid-19 pandemic began.
We have a growing, ageing population with more people living with long-term conditions that require treatment and management from the NHS. Cuts to public health and social care have added to that pressure, resulting in declining satisfaction with the health service.
Simply put, more people have needed help, and there have been fewer available resources at GP practices’ disposal to help them.
PCNs bring two clear benefits that help with this problem.
Firstly, as mentioned above, there are now extra specialists working with the practices bringing services that patients can access through the familiar setting of their local GP.
Secondly, new roles have been created to make accessing community organisations, charities, and other sources of support easier for patients. Social Prescribing Link Workers and Care Coordinators play a vital role in integrating the different levels of care and support people need.
A consistent, unified approach to health
This means more services are available for patients, and accessing them will be more joined-up and consistent.
Those services will be locally based, often delivered directly through GP practices, and tailored to the needs of people in the area.
Look out for more about our network, our approach, and initiatives in the coming weeks.