Primary care networks should include community pharmacies, optometrists and dental providers, according to new NHS contract documents.
Networks will be expected to have ‘wide-reaching’ membership to offer ‘more personalised, coordinated health and social care’ to their local populations, NHS England said in a new primary care network frequently asked questions document.
Primary care networks are a major part of the new five-year GP contract, and will each cover a patient population of between 30,000 and 50,000, with all patients being covered by a network – even if not all practices join them.
But in the latest document outlining the networks, NHS England has made it clear that they should include other healthcare organisations – though it doesn’t define what is meant by ‘membership’.
The document said: ‘Primary care networks will be expected to have a wide-reaching membership, led by groups of general practices.
‘This should include providers from the local system such as community pharmacy, optometrists, dental providers, social care providers, voluntary sector organisations, community services providers or local government.’
Despite this, general practice must remain at the core of networks, it added.
‘If a primary care network does not have a core set of GPs and practices, it is not a primary care network – the Network Contract DES is a mechanism for flowing funding to primary care networks, and general practice is expected to be the core around which primary care networks are built upon,’ the document said.
BMA GP Committee chair, Richard Vautrey, said the move would help ensure patients get ‘timely care’.
‘Primary care networks provide an opportunity to bring together all those involved in health care and social care within a community. Working more closely with pharmacies can help to ensure patients get timely care when they don’t necessarily need to be seen by practices, and similarly working closely with dental providers can help to ensure people get the right treatment for dental infections or problems, in line with the BMA guidance produced with the help of the BDA a few years ago,’ he said.
NHS England revealed last month that primary care networks would not have to be led by a GP, but that ‘any clinician’ in general practice would be able to take charge as clinical director.
Pulse also reported last month that CCGs in some areas in England have been trying to ‘manipulate’ network formations, to ensure they align with their own plans.