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​One in four GP partners spend at least 10 hours a week on PCN work

More than a quarter of GP partners in England spent an average of 10 hours or more a week establishing their primary care networks in 2019, new research has found.

In a survey of 677 partners, 26% said they had filled at least 10 hours a week with PCN duties since networks were launched in July 2019.

However, 18% of respondents said they did not on average have to spend any time at all on PCN work in a week, while 27% reported network activities as taking up an average of one to two hours a week.

The new research is part of a wide-ranging survey of more than 3,500 GPs and other primary care staff, carried out in November and December 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

The State of Primary Care report – the seventh yearly analysis of primary care – was released today by Cogora, the company that publishes Pulse and sister titles including Healthcare LeaderManagement in PracticeThe Pharmacist and Nursing in Practice.

The research also indicated that the formation of PCNs is having more of a negative impact on patient care than a positive one.

Respondents were asked to rate the kind of impact that they believed networks had for patients, from one to five, with one being ‘extremely negative’, three signalling that networks have had neither a negative nor positive impact and five meaning ‘extremely positive’. The average score was 2.69 among the 653 GP partners responding.

However, 66% of 677 GP partners said they had a ‘good’ or ‘very good’ relationship with other practices in their network, while 29% said it was neither good nor bad. Just 5% felt they had a ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ relationship with other practices in their network.

GP partners were asked to note how time-consuming setting up their PCN had been and were given a series of options ranging from zero to more than 10 hours.

The results indicated that significant time and effort – which many practices cannot afford – had to be dedicated to establishing networks.

The report said: ‘GP partners reported that they’d spent in excess of 10 hours a week, on average, forming their PCN.

‘That’s at least two extra hours of work each day – or two hours taken away from their full-time job – at a time when practices could ill afford it.’

Cogora surveyed readers of Pulse and sister publications on topics such as low morale, vaccinations, cutbacks, and Brexit’s impact on the NHS.

PCNs were introduced in the 2019/20 GP contract in England, with the expectation that all patients would be covered by a local network by 1 July 2019.

But by the end of the year, the Health Foundation published a report stating that PCNs were at risk of failure, as practices had insufficient resources to maintain them, and ultimately could reduce patient contact.

In January of this year, following the publication of controversial new specifications for services to be delivered by networks, GPs said the requirements could threaten practices’ viability due to the extra workload involved.