Top tips for growing a thriving primary care network

31 January 2019

By Helen Northall

The NHS’s 10-year plan may be billed as long term, but policy makers expect general practices to leap into action to form primary care networks (PCNs). According to the NHS Long Term Plan, practices have until July to get into groups. 

Ultimately GPs might well welcome the voice that the networks will give general practice and the status they gain as the building blocks for integrated care systems. Those systems, after all, appear set to be the geographical footprint for key decision making  in the near future.

However, currently just 30% of practices are members of PCNs – and many existing networks don’t meet the exact criteria set out for them in the ten year plan, either because they’re bigger than the 30,000-50,000 specified in the plan or because they fail to share neat boundaries with other community services or with social care.

For most practices therefore, even those already in some sort of PCN arrangement, pause for thought would be useful. Time may be a luxury the plan does not afford them but they should take a deep breath and think clearly about how they will set about building and nurturing new relationships.

With practice incomes likely to be increasingly reliant on contracts secured by their PCNs, there is a financial incentive for making them work – but also for getting them right first time.

Our work helping to join up primary care services suggests ten things GPs and existing PCNs should do as they respond to the government’s urgent call to arms.

  1. Most importantly (and despite the need for speed), take the time to agree a shared vision that  practices – and other network partners – feel they can both sign up to and help deliver.
  2. Don’t focus too much on form or structure at the start. The form, for example a limited company – should follow the vision or goals and enable the network to achieve its agreed purpose. 
  3. Spend time on relationships between member organisations and work on building trust.
  4. Communicate clearly so that everyone is signed up to the same vision and purpose and understands what is being done to enable the network to deliver them.
  5. Start small: identify and work on a few priorities – ones agreed by practice members – so the benefit can be seen quickly.
  6. Given their fundamental roles as both forces for integration and in generating practice income, it’s worthwhile holding regular review meetings. They will give you space to identify and discuss which issues might block progress and to agree how to overcome them.
  7. Advertise the network’s successes and communicate them to members to establish buy-in and keep momentum.
  8. Don’t stand still: having moved swiftly to get started, your plans will need to evolve in response to new income opportunities as well as to changing local and national priorities. However, in considering new activities or contracts, ensure they are financially beneficial to the network and its members.
  9. Support your practices: explore with them the options for benefits such as shared staff, supporting challenged practices and delivering services together.
  10.  Look at building and maintaining longer term and wider relationships – ask how the network will work with other PCNs, local services and the community.

Establishing or redesigning PCNs will enable primary care leaders to emerge. Through working together they can give a stronger voice for primary care in integrated care systems and set a strong path for primary care to be the focus of health services for years to come.

In other words, it’s worth the effort to get them right.

Helen Northall is chief executive of PCC

Resources Primary Care Networks

Latest News

An insider's guide to procurement for primary care providers

15 August 2019

Understanding procurement and how to prepare a bid are critical to the future of primary care providers – such as general medical and dental practices. More and more services are subject to a procurement process, rather than being simply directly awarded by commissioners. These include opportunities to run GP practices (APMS contracts), or for dental practices, additional services such as orthodontic services. This event on 8 October in York and 13 November in London explains why understanding procurement matters, how the process works and how to prepare a bid. It includes practical advice, clear explanations of terminology and other technicalities, a walk through typical procurement documentation and questions, pitfalls to avoid when preparing bids, tips on good practice, and advice on how to choose which bids to go for.

Read More

PCN workforce expansion and employment law - what you need to know

15 August 2019

This half-day event on 2 October in London and 15 October in Manchester examines the legal issues surrounding the expansion of workforce being driven by primary care networks. Addressing the workforce crisis in primary care was one of the main motives behind the creation of primary care networks. GP practices working together in networks should be enabled to employ a wider range of clinical staff able to address the workload issues caused by rising demand and a shortage of GPs. The network contract provides incentives for workforce expansion with full or partial funding for some new roles available to practices.

Read More

Podcast: Why resilience still matters

15 August 2019

Practices that are fighting to keep their head above water are understandably reluctant to identify themselves as “struggling”. In our latest podcast, former practice business manager and GP federation manager Tracy Green explains why resilience is not just about averting an imminent crisis but about building the resources to cope with whatever the future holds.

Read More

Resilience means more than helping struggling practices

15 August 2019

Primary care networks create the opportunity for practices to benefit from their collective strengths, but they do not automatically overcome the weaknesses of underperforming members of the network. Around £8m of the £40m resilience fund NHS England announced with the GP Forward View is still available to support the development of practices in the current financial year. This document outlines PCC’s support for practices looking to head off immediate problems and become fit for the future.

Read More

Get the inside track on integrating new workforce roles

13 August 2019

Primary care networks provide the opportunity (and funding) to add new roles to existing general practice teams – to alleviate workload, to plug capacity gaps, to improve the services on offer to patients, or often a combination of the three. How well do you understand new roles like the clinical pharmacist, the social-prescribing link worker and the physician associate? This half-day event in London on 25 September gives you the opportunity to find out from three professionals already working in general practice what they contribute. They will also share their experiences about how well prepared they felt for their new roles and the challenges they faced, providing valuable tips on how to get it right for practice managers and PCN leads considering expanding their teams. The event also provides an update and opportunities to ask questions about funding for new roles, as well as an action-planning session to apply the lessons from the case studies to your local situation.

Read More