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PCNs have improved relationships between practices ‘significantly’, says report

Primary care networks have improved relationships between practices ‘significantly’ across England, the NHS body representing health service providers has found.

In a report published yesterday on the state of PCNs a year on from their launch, the NHS Confederation’s PCN network said that ‘ongoing contact’ between practices is ‘an achievement’ in many areas.

The report said: ‘We have heard that in many areas relationships across primary care have improved significantly, with some stakeholders reporting that before PCNs there was little or no interaction between practices, as well as between general practice and other local providers. 

‘The fact that practices are now having ongoing contact with each other, and importantly with others across health and care settings, is in many areas an achievement considering where they started from last July.’

Collaborative working between practices was especially ‘limited’ in rural areas before PCNs where practices are not geographically close, it added.

The NHS Confederation said the expansion of digital platforms over the last year – boosted due to coronavirus – have helped communication within and between networks and the building of ‘strong new relationships’ across primary care and the wider health system.

It said: ‘One clinical director told us that shifting these meetings to video conferencing as a result of Covid-19 has been hugely beneficial. It has saved people having to travel to meetings, simultaneously saving time and incentivising attendance.

However, the report added that some relationships with local stakeholders such as CCGs remain ‘strained’ over a lack of communication and ‘perceived micro-management’.

It said: ‘We have also heard that CCGs’ support during Covid-19 has been variable and in some cases quite limited for many PCNs. This has made dealing with issues such as PPE and shielding lists more difficult.’

The report also found that:

  • Multidisciplinary teams have ‘generally been effective’ in improving patient care.
  • Overall there is ‘still a good degree of optimism across PCNs’.
  • Social prescribers have become the ‘public face’ of their PCN, allowing clinical directors to focus on clinical work, and have been especially helpful in leading engagement with shielding patients.
  • PCNs are ‘marginalised’ at ICP and ICS level and their voice must be ‘mandated centrally into all systems’, including local Covid recovery.

Meanwhile, it said that heavy workloads are leading to ‘burnout’ and a ‘high level of turnover’ among PCN clinical directors.

Last month, NHS England announced that 98% of GP practices have signed up to the primary care network DES this year – although a Pulse analysis of data supplied by CCGs showed that a slightly larger number of practices have opted out this year compared to last.

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