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Real change is coming for primary care. From July we’ll see the formalisation of primary care networks (PCNs), when GP practices will need to be part of a network covering 30,000 to 50,000 patients in exchange for various new pots of funding.
And CCGs have been tasked with organising and recognising those networks to ensure that their entire population is covered by PCNs. This model of care has informally existed for years, with practices working in some form of network whether it be neighbourhoods, localities, federations or super-partnerships – but with little official funding to back them up.
If PCNs are successful, this could be a watershed moment for the health service. Finally, there could be a simpler way for commissioners and senior managers across the NHS to engage with those working in primary care. As our analysis on PCNs suggests, it should be easier for integrated care systems (ICSs) in particular to hear from primary care clinicians about exactly what their needs are as well as the needs of their areas. At long last, a door could be opening to better collaborative working.
But we mustn’t get too carried away. Everyone agrees that something must be done to tackle the current crisis in general practice. Increased demand on GPs, a reduced GP workforce and the growing financial instability of general practice means that more funding and resources are necessary to keep general practice afloat. But as with any re-organisation, there is scepticism. Interestingly at a recent event run by our sister GP-publication, Pulse, a speaker asked for a show of hands of those who felt PCNs would be good for general practice. Of an audience of around 250 GPs, about five raised their hands.
So commissioners still have some way to go to persuade GP practices that these networks could help alleviate their workload pressures and those involved in other models of care such as ICSs and STPs may need to tread carefully as they establish relationships with newly formed networks. I have heard a lot of talk of networks having to evolve ‘from the ground up’, which seems perfectly apt to ensure GP practices don’t feel like they are being puppeteered to deliver the services dictated by the wider NHS.
Meanwhile, as the primary care landscape begins to change, so has the publishing industry. And to reflect this, Healthcare Leader is undergoing some changes itself. Rather than continue to juggle our print magazine with the growing demands of our website and newsletters, we have taken the decision for this print edition to be our last as we fully embrace our digital-first strategy.
Through case studies, interviews and analysis, Healthcare Leader will continue to provide a platform for local NHS leaders to share innovative ideas on how to address their financial and clinical challenges. So, although the way you read Healthcare Leader will be changing, our drive to champion and inform those leading the transformation of the health service never will.
Gemma Collins is group editor of Healthcare Leader