CCGs have been told to ensure that the new primary care networks, which all GP practices will be mandated to join, are in place by 30 June at the latest.
NHS England planning guidance for the year ahead said CCGs must commit to spending a recurrent £1.50 per head of population on ‘developing and maintaining’ the primary care networks.
The guidance, which comes as the Government’s long-awaited long-term plan pledged an extra £4.5bn investment in primary and community services earlier this week, also says CCGs have to ensure swift investment in this area.
The document said: ‘Building on the £3 per head CCG investment in primary care transformation during 2017/18 and 2018/19, we will be requiring CCGs to commit a recurrent £1.50 per head recurrently to developing and maintaining primary care networks so that the target of 100% coverage is achieved as soon as is possible and by 30 June 2019 at the latest.
It added that the investment ‘needs to be provided in cash rather than in kind’.
The planning guidance said real-terms investment in primary and community services ‘should grow faster than CCGs overall revenue growth’, as set out in the long-term plan, and further guidelines will be issued showing how to measure this.
Sustainability and transformation partnerships (STPs) and integrated care systems (ICSs) must also include a primary care strategy, by April, as part of their overarching strategy to improve population health.
The strategies should include a primary care network development plan; and a local workforce plan for general practice, NHS England added.
In response, a BMA briefing said that while ‘considerable time and resources will need to be directed towards planning to meet the requirements set out in this guidance’, it ‘remains to be seen if this will lead to tangible benfits for patients, doctors and staff’.
‘The guidance states that STPs must engage with CCGs and primary care providers as part of their planning – it is essential that this actually happens,’ it added.
Earlier this week, the BMA told Pulse that GP practices in England can expect changes to their contract from April mandating them to join networks of 30-50,000 patients.
Family Doctor Association chair Dr Peter Swinyard said his advice to GP practices was to form networks before CCGs did it to them.
However, he added that some practices ‘may need a little bit of a dragooning into a grouping’.
He said: ‘The bottom line is that these groups of practices are going to have to work together. Because if they don’t, all this funding which is going to come down as part of the long-term plan just will not reach the practices.’
‘I think we are going to have to realise that we are going to be working in larger groupings now whether we like it or not, and make the best of it rather than trying to fight against it.’
GP Committee chair Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘LMCs should work with their CCGs to ensure common sense prevails in these developments, and to support practices to work out what is the best fit for their area.
‘The intention is to focus services around local communities and the therefore the practices that are within them.’
Speaking to Pulse in an exclusive interview earlier this week, health secretary Matt Hancock said primary care networks will support GPs to be spend more time on ‘what they are trained to do’.
Meanwhile, NHS England claimed that a pilot primary care network set up with GP practices in Luton saved 3,000 appointments and £50,000, while also improving patient satisfaction.