Following on from our overview of the GP Partnership Review – Final Report (January 2019), we take a look at the seven recommendations made by Dr Nigel Watson—the independent chair of the GP partnership review—as part of a series of bulletins to be released over the next several weeks.

This edition will look at the recommendation that Primary Care Networks (PCN) should be established and operate in a way that makes constituent practices more sustainable and enables partners to address workload and safe working capacity, while continuing to support continuity of high quality, personalised, holistic care.

What is obvious from the report is that the survivorship of the partnership model is dependent on practices coming together to work collaboratively in PCNs. All GP practices are expected to be a part of a PCN by June 2019. 

A PCN is a model for working at scale currently promoted by NHS England. It is to group geographically co-located practices into hubs covering 30,000 to 50,000 patients. There is no prescribed form a PCN must take and in reality there are a variety of models across the country. The point to note is that the autonomy of practices is not affected by being in a PCN and hence the partnership model can continue to be used by the individual practices. 

By working together practices can take advantage of the benefits collaborative working can bring. The role of a PCN can be multifaceted. It can be used as a Training Hub, as a host for GPs with specialist interests or those looking to develop a portfolio career. It is also considered to be a means by which general practice can be given a voice in the wider health system—something which has become lost over time. 

The review urges NHS England to use the funding available for primary care to be made available via PCNs. It is thought that if the income is used in this way, it will stabilise and future proof general practice as partnerships. In particular, the review recommends that existing funding for extended access is allocated through PCNs. As PCNs mature they would be expected to deliver these services and we believe they could be used to share staff, non-clinical functions and employ multi-disciplinary teams across the Network.

As practices continue to come together in PCNs, the role of the PCN will develop. However there are many things to consider including its form, the allocation of risk and liability and ultimately its purpose. 

For more information or to discuss any aspect of your practice please contact Sam Hopkins or Neha Shah, or view further information about our GP expertise here.