The biggest transformation to the way family doctors work in more than a generation will be launched from today (Mon 1 July).
It will see general practices, large and small, working to support each other while offering a wider range of specialist care services to patients from a range of health professionals.
In the North West, Healthier South Wirral, Burnley East and Aintree Primary Care Networks are just three examples of how networks are already rolling out programmes of work which are having a direct benefit to the populations they serve.
GPs will recruit multi-disciplinary teams, including pharmacists, physiotherapists, paramedics, physician associates and social prescribing support workers, freeing up family doctors to focus on the sickest patients.
Around 7,000 general practices – more than 99% – have come together across England to form almost 1.300 new Primary Care Networks.
In Lancashire and South Cumbria there are 217 General practices with 41 networks and for Cheshire and Merseyside 374 practices and 55 networks.
Anthony Leo, Director of Primary Care and Public Health for the NHS in the North West said, “Primary Care Networks allow the practices within them to think differently about the services they are offering to their patients.
“By working together, they can share the workload and ease pressure on the individual practice teams. As primary care networks develop, they will work closely with other health and social care partners and the wider system to offer better access to a wider range of joined-up services more quickly for people who need them most.”
These will attract billions in extra investment to sustain general practice in the short term and improve access to family doctors, expanded services at local practices and longer appointments for patients who need them.
This milestone for primary medical and community care, which forms a major commitment of the NHS Long Term Plan, will see neighbouring practices working more closely together and with other services in their area to provide more joined up care for patients.
The additional funding from the five-year GP Contract agreed with the BMA at the end of January, includes £1.8billion to fund the recruitment of 20,000 more specialist health care staff to support general practices.
Up to 40% of GP appointments don’t need to be with a family doctor and the new recruits will free up GPs to spend more time with patients who need them most, offering longer appointments to those who need them, as well ensuring patients can get a wide range of expert specialist services at their local practice.
This builds on the increase of more than 5,000 extra practice staff working with GPs over the past four years. We will also continue to recruit more practice nurses and GPs, with the number of young doctors choosing to train as GPs now at a record high.
Patients will also have a range of options when it comes to getting appointments at their practice, including the introduction of digital appointments, which will build on the progress which saw evening and weekend appointments made available across the country at the end of last year, with an estimated nine million appointments a year now available at more convenient times.
It means GP practices will be able to drive further action on killer conditions such as cancer and heart disease as well as doing more to tackle obesity, diabetes and mental ill health, and support older people at home and in care homes.
The NHS Long Term Plan will see funding for primary medical and community care increase as a share of the NHS budget for the first time in the health service’s 70-year history, with an extra £4.5 billion invested by 2023.
Dr Nikki Kanani, a GP and NHS England’s Acting Medical Director for Primary Care, added: “We’re delighted with the enthusiasm shown across the country with GPs, local medical committees and commissioners working together to establish Primary Care Networks.
“Of around 7,000 practices across England, 99.6% have joined a PCN with just a handful opting out. We would have liked full coverage but we respect the rights and reasons of those practices who have decided not to sign up and where they haven’t, commissioners will make arrangements to ensure that 100% of patients can access network services. The new PCNs will see GPs large and small working together to provide a wider selection of specialist services to patients. It’s a game changer and signals the start of a new era for general practice.”
While many of the networks are launched today, and it will take some weeks or months for patients to see much change, some PCNs are already up and running and providing new services.