The BMA has met with a health minister to call for a further delay to the introduction of new primary care network (PCN) services that are due to begin from this autumn, citing the additional workload pressures they will bring.
The four PCN services – covering CVD diagnosis and prevention, tackling inequalities and the controversial personalised care and anticipatory care services – are planned to start as early as 1 October.
In its meeting with health minister Jo Churchill, the BMA discussed the ‘additional burden’ new PCN services would have on general practice if introduced this winter and urged that they be delayed until April 2022.
The BMA said the colder months will be when practices are likely to be at their busiest, dealing with a rise in respiratory illness, Covid and flu vaccinations as well as a backlog in treatment.
In a BMA email bulletin sent to members on Monday (28 June), it said: ‘We… pushed for the PCN service specifications planned for October to be delayed until April 2022 at the earliest to reduce additional workload burden for practices during the autumn and winter when we are likely to be facing a rise in respiratory illness alongside the need to focus on flu/COVID-19 vaccinations and support patients impacted by the ongoing NHS care backlog.’
Pulse has asked the Department of Health and Social Care whether or not it plans to further delay the PCN service specifications, as requested by the BMA, but it has not responded.
During the meeting the BMA said it raised a range of issues including recruitment to the Additional Roles Reimbursement Scheme (ARRS), access to the electronic prescribing system, and concerns about the ‘overly prescriptive management of general practice’ by NHS England.
It called for the Government to ‘do more to inform the public about the pressures the whole NHS [has been] under and for them to encourage people not to take out their frustration on frontline staff, particularly by abusing reception staff’.
The BMA said it also discussed the need for ARRS recruitment to be ‘maximised’ this year and for the primary care estate to be expanded, and highlighted the need to enable dispensing practices to use the electronic prescribing system.
The PCN services it wants to see delayed have already been stalled. NHS England announced in March that the four new services, which were due to be introduced earlier this year, would be delayed until October ‘at the earliest’ following the need for ‘pandemic prioritisation’.
The latest figures from NHS Digital show GP practices in England carried out 31.5 million recorded patient appointments in April, with the numbers including 7.5 million Covid vaccines delivered by practices or PCNs.
Earlier this month, an NHS England director warned that addressing the Covid-related backlog in treatment and restoring services will be a ‘big ask’ for GPs, with the pent-up demand amounting to a ‘second public health crisis’.
NHS England has recently set a new target for GP practices to deliver appointments ‘at or above’ pre-pandemic levels for 2021/22.