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Health minister claims PCN service specification ‘will reduce GP workload’

Service specifications for the new primary care networks (PCNs) will ‘reduce workload pressures on GPs’, the primary care minister has claimed.

Health minister Jo Churchill said that the additional roles attached to networks would alleviate workload for primary care. However Pulse yesterday revealed that PCNs were struggling to recruit additional staff.

Her comments come as the BMA’s GP Committee is meeting today to vote on the 2020/21 GP contract, including amendments to the PCN network specifications.

The first draft of the specifications, released on 23 December, faced backlash from the profession after it revealed new tasks for GPs, including fortnightly care home visits.

Last week, NHS England admitted that it would have to ‘significantly’ redesign the PCN service proposals after over 4,000 GPs voiced concerns over the networks’ ability to deliver the specifications.

However, responding to a written question from an MP last week, Ms Churchill said: ‘NHS England and NHS Improvement have assessed that the PCN draft outline service specifications and Network Contract DES will reduce workload pressures on general practitioners and support improved primary care services to patients.

‘This will be through a combination of the additional workforce capacity which is being created within primary care, and the redesign of community services provision to link with and support PCNs.’

Ms Churchill added that NHS England will take a deal on the 2020/21 GP contract, which includes the PCN service specifications, to the Government for sign-off ‘shortly’.

Conservative MP for Bosworth and GP Dr Luke Evans had asked health secretary Matt Hancock ‘what assessment he has made of the potential effect of the PCN draft outline service specifications and primary care enhanced services on the workload of GPs.’

It comes as an investigation by Pulse revealed that PCNs have struggled to hire additional staff to carry out the new tasks. The investigation found that only around half of PCNs recruited clinical pharmacists last year, with a similar proportion having managed to hire social prescribers.

Last month, the BMA reassured GPs that concerns about the network draft service specifications were being heard ‘loud and clear’ and that these would form the ‘basis’ of its contract negotiations with NHS England.

A number of LMCs have advised practices not to sign the network DES contract as it stands and a recent Pulse survey revealed that 80% of GP partners will pull out of the network DES contract if proposals go ahead.

Meanwhile, Matt Hancock said last week that he wants to ensure ‘value for money’ from PCNs as part of the ongoing contract negotiations with the BMA.